Oberlin Athletes and Administrators Feel that Anti-Trans Sports Bills are Discriminatory

Even as bills that could prevent transgender women from joining women’s college sports teams are introduced in various states around the country, Oberlin athletes and administrators feel confident that the College’s protections for trans athletes will hold. Still, these rulings set a worrying precedent. 

While the NCAA’s guidelines on trans athletes states that trans women collegiate athletes are allowed to compete on women’s sports teams after at least a year of testosterone-suppressing therapy, certain states — including South Dakota, Tennessee, Alabama, Montana, Arkansas, and Missouri — have proposed bills that would bar transgender women from participation in women’s sports entirely. Idaho signed and Mississippi have already signed bills into law.

“Some are defined by the NCAA but we have collaborated with our trans athletes to understand their needs/wants,” wrote Associate Vice President for Athletics Advancement and Delta Lodge Director of Athletics & Physical Education Natalie Winkelfoos in an email to the Review. “We control what we can (uniforms, facilities, language, etc.) and always strive to do what is best for student-athletes.”

Chase Sortor, College second-year and trans athlete on the men’s cross country and track teams, says that he has found Oberlin’s policies to be very supportive. He also notes, however, that these policies mirror the NCAA’s. 

“[The NCAA and  Oberlin are] much more lenient towards trans masculine athletes,” he said. 

Under Oberlin and NCAA policies, trans men may compete on either a men’s or women’s team if they are not undergoing hormone therapy, but are required to be on a men’s team if they begin taking testosterone. In contrast, trans women who are not taking testosterone blockers must stay on a men’s team, and those who do undergo hormone therapy must remain on a men’s team until a full year of treatment has been completed. 

College second-year and trans athlete on the varsity swim and dive team Lucas Draper also feels that the guidelines for trans women are too restrictive. 

“I’m in a position of luck because I’m a trans male athlete, but I can imagine how horrible it is for trans female athletes,” Draper said. “They’re trapped. … A year is a very long time to make them wait.” 

Draper posited that a core problem the NCAA faced in making its policy decisions around trans athletes was a lack of research. Sortor echoed this sentiment, explaining that even the NCAA’s one-year mark for hormone therapy isn’t very well researched and that hormones affect every person’s body differently. The bills being introduced across the country, however, stand in opposition to the NCAA’s ruling, aiming to prohibit trans women from participating in women’s sports completely. Proponents of these bills claim that allowing trans women’s participation is unfair to cisgender female athletes.

“As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I find these bills disappointing and dangerous,” Winkelfoos wrote. “They have nothing to do with saving girls’ and women’s sports. I see them as vehicles to push an agenda of discrimination and hate.”

Sortor believes that the bills are a step backward for athletics. 

“The reasons behind these bills are transphobic,” he said. “There’s a whole article out about how Michael Phelps was built to be a good swimmer, and then suddenly when it’s a trans woman it’s an issue … and it’s often targeted at Black trans women.”

Winkelfoos says that the bills are based on unjustified expectations.

“There’s an assumption that each [female] transgender athlete seeking to participate is of elite status and would automatically dominate competition — making it impossible for a cisgender woman to thrive — I find that to simply just not be true,” she wrote.

Though no changes to the current policies have been proposed in Ohio, the Oberlin administration remains vigilant. 

“My team and I have our eyes on what is happening,” Winkelfoos wrote.