The board governing Alaska high school sports has voted to ban trans girls from competing on high school sports teams that match their gender identity.
At a meeting in Anchorage on Monday, the Alaska School Activities Association Board of Directors voted 5-3 to limit participation in girls sports to athletes who are “assigned female at birth,” in agreement with a unanimous vote by the state Board of Education and Early Development in August.
The change takes effect immediately, ASAA Executive Director Billy Strickland said.
Strickland said he recommended the board vote to amend its bylaws, because the earlier Board of Education decision would have prevented schools from joining ASAA or any other sports association without such a ban.
“We don’t want to see sports come to a scratching halt while this probably works its way through the court system,” Strickland said.
There are currently no legal challenges in Alaska over the issue.
Strickland said ASAA is required to have an appeals process for athletes who wish to challenge their eligibility, but he was unsure Tuesday how that would work for trans girls.
The Board of Education received over 1,400 pages of public testimony and heard members of the public testify for hours in July, most of whom spoke against the proposed changes.
Advocates argue that preventing trans athletes from competing on sports teams that match their gender identity ensures that competitions will remain fair and safe. Those in opposition worry that discrimination against specific athletes could discourage participation and bring costly litigation.
“From a safety standpoint, we haven’t seen that yet,” Strickland said. “From a competitive standpoint, you could make the argument that, you know, the student displaced other kids off the podium.”
Strickland said he only knew of one instance where a transgender athlete competed in an ASAA-sanctioned state championship event. The athlete ran Division II track and earned a second-place finish.
Following ASAA’s vote, the Anchorage School District issued a statement saying it was “disappointed” in the decision.
Anchorage School Board President Margo Bellamy had provided written testimony to the ASAA board ahead of its vote.
“AASA should not be setting policy or interfering with local ordinances or local district policies,” Bellamy wrote. “This bylaw change will cause school districts to discriminate based on gender/sex and force districts to either comply with unreasonable and harmful requirements or seek alternatives for noncompliance.”
The board had sought legal advice in the spring to determine whether ASAA or the Board of Education had the authority to regulate eligibility for high school sports based on gender. A legal memo requested by Strickland in April noted that the department does not have direct authority over ASAA but that failure to comply with the regulations enacted by the department could prohibit public schools from competing under ASAA.
The only Alaska high school sports not sanctioned by ASAA are Native Youth Olympics and downhill skiing. The organizers of those competitions would have to make their own decisions on whether to allow trans girls to compete against other girls, Strickland said.
Before Monday, the only school district in the state with a similar ban on trans athletes was the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District. Their school board voted to ban trans girls from girls sports in 2022.