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Mendes, L.; Morgado, E.G.; Leonido, L. Social Inclusion of Transgender People in Intercollegiate Sports. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 19 June 2024).
Mendes L, Morgado EG, Leonido L. Social Inclusion of Transgender People in Intercollegiate Sports. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed June 19, 2024.
Mendes, Liliana, Elsa Gabriel Morgado, Levi Leonido. "Social Inclusion of Transgender People in Intercollegiate Sports" Encyclopedia, (accessed June 19, 2024).
Mendes, L., Morgado, E.G., & Leonido, L. (2023, June 14). Social Inclusion of Transgender People in Intercollegiate Sports. In Encyclopedia.
Mendes, Liliana, et al. "Social Inclusion of Transgender People in Intercollegiate Sports." Encyclopedia. Web. 14 June, 2023.
Social Inclusion of Transgender People in Intercollegiate Sports

Transgender individuals face discrimination and exclusion in various areas of society, including sports. Notably, intercollegiate athletics suffer criticism for their lack of inclusivity towards transgender athletes. Despite the increasing visibility of transgender individuals and ongoing efforts towards greater inclusivity, there is a significant lack of research on their social integration within college sports.

cultural identity education gender equality social inclusion

1. Introduction

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), transgender individuals have an incompatibility between the gender given to them at birth with their gender identity. The gender identity of a person is closely associated with the social transition. A social transition is a means of altering one’s physical attributes, behavior, as well as societal position to more closely correspond with one’s gender identification without the need for medical procedures (WHO 2022). This might include wearing gender-specific clothes and haircuts, altering their name, style, and behaviors, and utilizing gender-specific services such as toilets and restrooms, which match their gender identification. Many transgender persons will opt for social transition to validate their gender identification, while others will choose to physically transition using gender-affirming hormones and gender-affirming surgery.
For most nations, transgender persons are excluded and marginalized due to a dearth of state recognition (Weiselberg et al. 2019). Though several nations now accept a “third gender,” transgender persons are sometimes compelled to endure genital surgery to acquire the official status of the gender; also, some nations would never acknowledge a change in a person’s birth gender (WHO 2022). The WHO report additionally states that, overall, transgender persons have poor levels of access to medical treatments because of a variety of factors such as violence against them, legal hurdles, stigma, and prejudice. Transgender persons are frequently abused (WHO 2022). Moreover, transgender persons may face rejection from their families as well as violations of their privileges to education, work, and social benefits (Mountjoy et al. 2016). As a result, transgender individuals may face increased levels of unemployment, suffering, homelessness, and marginalization (WHO 2022). This situation is similar in the sports environment.
Sport constitutes a highly gendered environment in which conventional concepts of masculinity, as well as femininity, are frequently reinforced and maintained. In comparison to the sports played by males and females, sports for transgender people have been underrated, under-promoted, and transgender athletes are frequently exposed to objectification and criticism about their physical traits. Furthermore, there has long been controversy regarding whether trans athletes deserve to be permitted to participate within gendered categories, which correspond to their gender identification (Mountjoy et al. 2016). The binary concepts of sex and gender, which are often utilized in athletics, provide difficulties for trans persons who are unable to fit properly into these classifications. For example, according to a recent investigation, many believe transgender women retain an athletic edge over their cisgender counterparts despite spending a year on gender-affirming therapy (Roberts et al. 2020). Therefore, sometimes transgender women athletes might not be permitted to participate in a collegiate sports event, or they might have to face additional difficulties (Roberts et al. 2020). However, the Canadian Center for Ethics in Sport (CCES 2022) claimed that there has been insufficient evidence to support the influence of testosterone suppression on the athletic abilities of transgender women athletes. According to the research, trans women who have had testosterone suppressed have no evident biological benefits over cis women in competitive athletics (CCES 2022). Additionally, discriminatory rules and views against trans athletes may pose hurdles to their engagement within collegiate sports and undermine their feeling of being accepted in these areas. Trans athletes could feel alone (DeFoor et al. 2018), misinterpreted, and ignored by their teammates and coaches, leading to reduced involvement as well as a rise in psychological difficulties. However, it is critical to acknowledge that gender can be a complicated and varied concept, as well as that trans athletes ought to be honored with decency, respect, and equality in a collegiate setting. This necessitates a change from the binary gender paradigms into broader and more flexible regulations that accommodate a variety of gender orientations and manifestations within collegiate sports (DeFoor et al. 2018). Regulations such as these must be founded on equality and inclusion rules, instead of on strict and old-fashioned gender stereotypes that restrict and differentiate against trans athletes (DeFoor et al. 2018).

2. Prejudice, and Discrimination in College Settings

According to a systematic review, Jones et al. (2017) state that transgender athletes within collegiate sports encounter prejudice and bias due to their gender identification, which may have a detrimental influence on their involvement in sports including athletic performance. This prejudice manifests itself in a variety of ways, such as rejection from teams, bullying, and discrimination. This may lead to transgender persons avoiding specific circumstances related to sports. Ellis et al. (2014) investigated contextual avoidance with special regard to gender identification as well as the phase of transition using a population of 889 UK-based individuals who self-identified as transgender. Researchers discovered statistically significant connections among subgroups (gender identification as well as phase of transition) as well as the avoidance (or otherwise) of specific circumstances, such as clothing stores, collage gyms, and restrooms. The significance of these results for assisting transgender persons in transition, particularly the actual experience, is indeed highlighted. This finding suggests that trans athletes may face difficulties in collegiate settings (Ellis et al. 2014; Jones et al. 2017).
Similar to Ellis et al. (2014), Klein et al. (2019) also mention a significant level of stereotyping against transgender people participating in college sports. According to Klein et al. (2019), many trans athletes have suffered dissension and hatred from teammates and strangers. Some peers, opponents, or officials, for example, routinely used wrong pronouns or openly attacked trans athletes. Many trans athletes were forbidden from competing. Additionally, Jones et al. (2017) acknowledged the concerns and obstacles that transgender individuals face when engaged in athletic competition as well as sport-related exercise. This discrimination and exploitation is the result of preconceptions articulated via power dynamics. To avoid bias and discrimination, trans student athletes are frequently hesitant to reveal their sexual identity, and therefore feel obligated to employ orientation negotiation or impression control strategies (Jones et al. 2017).
Additionally, according to Phipps (2021), using existing academic research, considerable impediments remain in collegiate sport, a setting that is largely constructed with dependence on gender binaries. Because of the gender binary, collegiate sports venues tend to provide substantial challenges for trans athletes. Concerns about eligibility remain a significant barrier, as many organizations rely on outmoded procedures, which do not take gender identity into consideration. Transphobia is another major issue, with numerous athletes experiencing prejudice and abuse from colleagues, instructors, and followers (Cunningham and Pickett 2018). The gender binary fosters the notion that there are just two genders, which are concrete and permanent. This fosters a hostile atmosphere for trans competitors, who are frequently denied equitable access to games and suffer participation difficulties. As a consequence, trans athletes face significant challenges to participate within collegiate sports situations (Cunningham et al. 2018; Jones et al. 2017).
Another form of prejudice encountered by transgender athletes within collegiate sports includes stigmatization. This stigma stems from societal prejudices and misconceptions regarding transgender people, such as the assumption that they possess an unfair edge in athletics (Reynolds and Hamidian Jahromi 2021). This judgment may result in transgender athletes being excluded from athletic groups and tournaments, even if they are capable of competing at a college level. Discrimination against transgender athletes within collegiate or university sports may result in serious consequences (Waselewski et al. 2023). Discrimination may trigger low self-worth, nervousness, sadness, and other psychological conditions that might impair sports performance. Discrimination may additionally lead to a dearth of opportunity and assets, limiting their potential to excel in athletics (Huffaker and Kwon 2016). Additionally, transgender studies have revealed that opinions about trans people are mostly negative among cisgender people (Huffaker and Kwon 2016). Even though with recent exposure and policy changes, Cunningham and Pickett (2018) mention the condition is currently slightly improving, but still the rate of prejudice and racism against trans people is significantly high, mainly considering participation in sports. Similarly, trans individuals encounter considerable obstacles linked to bias and prejudice within collegiate sports situations. These difficulties are caused by several issues, notably societal stigma as well as an absence of knowledge, along with legislation and procedures, which are frequently discriminatory against trans athletes (Reynolds and Hamidian Jahromi 2021; Tanimoto and Miwa 2021). One of the major concerns is the absence of straightforward and uniform regulations addressing trans athletes’ involvement in collegiate sports. It may contribute to inconsistencies and uncertainty regarding the way trans athletes are perceived, as well as hurdles to their engagement in sports (Cunningham et al. 2018; Stroup et al. 2014). Some colleges, for instance, might ask trans athletes to undergo gender-affirming procedures for a set amount of time before they may participate, whilst others might not. This inconsistency may make sports participation tough and unjust for trans athletes (Atteberry-Ash et al. 2018).
Additionally, prejudices can be specific to a particular transgender community. Tanimoto and Miwa (2021) mention prejudices are more prevalent against the transgender women community in sports. The author collected quantitative data from 373 Japanese students. The findings indicate that transgender men were far more recognized than transgender women; transgender athletes receiving gender-affirming hormonal therapy were more allowable, and such transgender sportsmen were more acknowledged in non-official national and global sports competitions for adolescents and adults compared to formal national as well as international activities. Tanimoto and Miwa (2021) also mention higher levels of confidence in a fair society were also linked positively with accepting views among participants having weaker sports personalities. Greater athletic personality was favorably connected with male acceptability but adversely linked with female acceptability.
Summary: This theme emphasizes the presence of prejudice and discrimination against transgender people in sports participation. The examination of other areas of literature (including non-college competitive sports), as well as literature regarding collegiate settings, reveals a high probability of racism towards trans individuals in collegiate settings, which might operate as a barrier to their participation in intercollegiate sports.

3. Policy Barrires for Intercollegiate Sports Participation

Several regulations and measures have been created to tackle the prejudice and problems experienced by transgender athletes within college sports. The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) policy on transgender athlete engagement is one of these rules. This regulation permits transgender athletes to compete in activities depending on their gender identification instead of their biological sex. The rule intends to provide transgender athletes with equal chances and to safeguard them from prejudice (Phipps 2021). However, others have contended that this measure is insufficient for safeguarding transgender athletes’ rights and prospects. One of the most common critiques leveled at the NCAA regulation is that it places too much emphasis on one-year gender-affirming treatment as a requirement for eligibility (Reynolds and Hamidian Jahromi 2021). In this case, it is important to consider Lia Thomas’ case. Thomas’ transfer from the male group to the female squad is the consequence of her gender transformation, and after completing the NCAA’s one-year testosterone suppressant usage criteria, she is able to play in collegiate sport as a part of a female team. According to an editorial in the University of Detroit Jesuit, Szachta (2022) mentions that the University of Pennsylvania is plainly breaching Title IX by enabling Lia Thomas to compete in female swimming and depriving biological women of opportunity. The existing eligibility standards for transgender athletes jeopardize the possibilities of female athletes because the NCAA simply mandates that the athletes’ testosterone levels do not go above 10 nmol/L. Biological males possess a significant physical benefit compared to females, and no level of hormone treatment will eliminate physical benefits such as height and muscle development, as seen by Lia Thomas’ exceptionally strong and tall body (Szachta 2022)
The present controversy about allowing transgender athletes to compete in athletics (in their present form) is concentrated on biological distinctions, most particularly, those between transgender as well as cisgender women. Skill differences depending on “assigned sexual orientation at birth” differ throughout sports, with swimming having the least and running and track activities having the greatest (Bassett et al. 2020). Such variations throughout athletic performance do not manifest themselves until after maturity and are assumed to be caused by higher circulating levels of testosterone among the “male” identified gender at birth players relative to the “female” assigned gender at birth players (Reynolds and Hamidian Jahromi 2021). Nevertheless, there has been a general paucity of evidence linking increased levels of testosterone to enhanced sports performance. The physical benefits, which transgender athletes may have, are at the heart of the controversy about their participation in sporting events. Additionally, the “female” categorization in athletics is quite unclear and just not universally recognized. To keep events fair, standardized norms regulating the admission or expulsion of transgender athletes must be developed. Presently, policies and perceptions of participation vary greatly at the collegiate sports level of activity (Tanimoto and Miwa 2021), implying that transgender players are seen differently at the amateur as well as professional levels (Cunningham et al. 2018; Tanimoto and Miwa 2021). Hence, both the scientific and medical societies must contribute to the development of such standards, particularly related to gender-affirming approaches and more so, the relationship between levels of testosterone and enhanced sports performance. Although physicians should play a significant role in formulating new athletics policies, sporting events managers mainly in collegiate settings and individuals who have expertise in sports administration and development must also be recognized. Opening dialogue amongst all these people is the initial step toward assuring the implementation and adoption of new rules at collegiate athletic competition (Reynolds and Hamidian Jahromi 2021).
Summary: The theme focuses on the policy problem of transgender athlete participation within intercollegiate sports, which is a possible impediment owing to a lack of established rules governing their integration or dismissal. The NCAA’s regulation allows transgender athletes to participate based on gender identity, but the one-year gender-affirming procedure mandate is insufficient to ensure equal opportunity, possibly providing transgender competitors an unfair edge. The college sports setting is distinct in that regulations regulating transgender athletes’ involvement may vary greatly between schools, resulting in erratic and unpredictability encounters for transgender athletes. As a result, transgender athletes may have difficulties participating in college sport competitions.

4. Shared Place Problem and Lack of Support in College Settings

Transgender athletes might confront an additional practical impediment in the absence of a secure and welcoming changing area (Cunningham et al. 2018). According to research, social issues within the collegiate sport setting might result in a reduced level of sporting involvement among transgender athletes (Cunningham et al. 2018). The very first issue is the locker rooms because many individuals might not feel at ease with their pre-surgery physique, fearing criticism from their contemporaries and being concerned about inconsistencies in the breast or genital area compared to everyone else (Waselewski et al. 2023).
Transgender women have stated the biggest obstacle to their involvement is a lack of an accommodating and comfortable atmosphere in the collegiate setting (Jones et al. 2017), which may explain their lower engagement in team sports. Transgender women regard their opinions, in particular, as a contributing impediment to their absence of engagement (Reynolds and Hamidian Jahromi 2021). Moreover, highly gendered sports create an atmosphere for these individuals that renders them fearful that opening up or applauding others might end up in them being incorrectly recognized as women (Reynolds and Hamidian Jahromi 2021). Likewise, considering sports clothing might be physically disclosing, it may pose an obstacle to engagement (Cunningham and Pickett 2018).
The shared space dilemma stems from the conflict between the requirement of offering athletes with an equal opportunity and the desire to encourage inclusion and diversity within athletics. On the one hand, athletic groups have to guarantee that all participants compete in a fair and equitable environment (Waselewski et al. 2023). The same is also true in the collegiate sports settings. This implies that athletes have to compete against those of the same sex allocated at birth, since physical disparities such as muscle mass as well as bone density might give an unfair advantage. This approach, nevertheless, could be discriminatory toward transgender athletes, who might not accept the sex given to them, indicating a lack of support to the transgender athletes (Cunningham et al. 2018).
Summary: The theme emphasizes that the shared space conundrum stems from a contradiction between giving equal opportunities for athletes and encouraging inclusiveness and diversity within athletics, which might be discriminatory against transgender athletes who do not identify with their assigned sex. Lack of encouragement and support from coaches, authorities, and other teammates may lead to transgender athletes dropping out of sports. It is possible that these transgender athletes are hesitant to engage in college sports due to this lack of support.

5. Other Stressors and Heteronormative Environment in College Settings

Stressors could be amplified for the first-year student athletes as they begin their college transition with the concern of injuries, inability to secure playtime, and failure to retain top athletic positions while shifting to a high level of competition (Phipps 2021). Furthermore, first-year student athletes encounter unique obstacles such as managing time and skipping class for squad travel, leading to less time or capacity to adjust to university life. It is straightforward to see that the pressures of competing for athletic ability at a top standard are amplified from the perspective of the trans student athlete, who has the added pressure to succeed and comply in a primarily heteronormative environment of athletics (Cunningham and Pickett 2018). Support networks and emotions of acceptability are increased areas of risk for transgender student athletes while shifting to a collegiate setting, as they also confront the difficulty of dealing with gender identity discrimination (Stroup et al. 2014).
Moreover, according to a study on trans inclusion sentiments among heterosexual students who participate in the club along with intercollegiate sports, a majority of students were neutral regarding the topic, with 35.5% expressing that they do not agree nor disagree that protective rules for trans athletes need to be set up; nearly 20% of student athletes disagreed with the idea that such regulations need to be put within the spotlight (Atteberry-Ash et al. 2018). Female transgender, liberal political philosophy, and not meeting a trans sportsman are all characteristics related to greater heterosexual student athlete assistance for the trans-inclusive policies (Waselewski et al. 2023). Increasing perceptions of team tolerance of trans persons, as well as the stronger incidence of encountering homophobic words in the workplace, are likewise strongly associated with increased favor for trans protection guidelines amongst friends (Atteberry-Ash et al. 2018; Toomey et al. 2016). Furthermore, Phipps (2021) mentions in research on trans involvement in university athletics that the binary frameworks of sport might create accessibility challenges for all individuals, but mainly those who are trans. Undoubtedly, it is critical that sport be accessible to everyone, and the results suggest that a variety of initiatives need to be implemented to improve opportunities for athletics for the trans students.
Summary: The theme emphasizes how the heteronormative milieu of athletics may put additional pressure on transgender student athletes to perform and comply, increasing their likelihood of prejudice based on gender identity and decreasing their emotional health. Furthermore, sports’ binary sex frameworks can pose accessibility issues for trans athletes. All these factors can act as a barrier for intercollegiate sports participation.


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