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After 50 Years of Title IX, Women are Still Competing for Their Rights

June 23, 2022

Thursday was the 50th anniversary of Title IX — signed into American law by President Nixon in 1972 to protect women from sex-based discrimination in sports. It was a mighty stride of progress for women’s rights and equality. Today, over 215,000 women play collegiate sports and benefit from the protections that Title IX paved the way for. The law states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation, in be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Meg Kilgannon, Family Research Council’s senior fellow for Education Studies, parsed out the implications of Title IX in schools: “This meant that if schools offered a football program for boys, a similar sporting opportunity needed to be offered for girls. If boys had locker rooms and changing facilities, girls should have the same. Title IX’s great success is that for many Americans today, it’s hard to believe there was a time when men and women were not treated equally at school.”

Though there are many victories and achievements to remember on this semi-centennial birthday of Title IX’s enactment, a heated debate is raging over the protections of Title IX. Last year, the Biden administration’s Education Department announced that these protections extended to transgender-identifying athletes, allowing biological males to compete on women’s sports teams. This past year, America watched and debated as transgender-identifying swimmer Lia Thomas dominated the NCAA Women’s Championship, crushing preexisting women’s swimming records and leaving two biological women in second and third place.

While some have championed the inclusion of transgender-identifying athletes as a step of progress, many fear the erasure and setback of women and their rights. Mary Szoch, FRC’s director of the Center for Human Dignity and former collegiate basketball player, believes that women today are facing discrimination in sports yet again. “But this time, it is based on the belief that there are no biological differences between men and women and therefore men can play women’s sports. This failure to acknowledge basic biology creates an unfair playing field and steals the opportunity to truly compete in a fair and safe environment from women,” she shared with TWS.

According to Szoch, “While not every man will be better at every sport than every woman, when men are allowed to play women’s sports, one woman always lose — the woman who is now sitting in the stands instead of wearing a jersey.”

Macy Petty, a current NCAA scholarship volleyball player, agrees, stating her belief that Title IX’s integrity and women’s sports are in danger. She shares her experience: “In high school, I played against a biological male on the volleyball court. College recruiters watched this athlete slam the ball in my face — the biological male was playing on a net seven inches shorter than they should have as a man. I have also witnessed men steal the roster spots and scholarships on women’s collegiate teams.”

Petty believes that it is important for female athletes to use their voices and defend women’s sports. “The women who came before us fought endlessly for our privilege to play against other females. Let’s not have a future where our daughters are going to their try-out competing for a spot on a team against biological boys,” she shared at a press conference. “Is that the future we want for girl’s sports? It’s our turn to fight for the next generation of girls. We are the Title IX fighters of our generation.”

It seems that speaking out comes with consequences, according to Christy Mitchell, the mother of collegiate track athlete Chelsea Mitchell who shared her experience in an op-ed for Fox News. According to her account, it is the fellow teenage girl athletes, not the public leaders or school administrators, who experience pushback from the public. Because the Mitchells and many others have filed lawsuits through Alliance Defending Freedom, Mitchell says, “You’ll find pages and pages of op-eds and hit pieces and denunciations of their motives and character. Follow them around their college campuses, and you’ll see the daily pushback they endure from peers who’ve bought into the media push in support of this unfair competition.”

“These girls didn’t make the rules, upend the norms, or codify regulations that deny biological reality,” Mitchell writes for Fox, “They didn’t do anything to destroy women’s sports. They’re just taking the fall for those who did.”

While the headlines in the United States have buzzed with the women’s sports issue the past few years, the international athletics community has recently questioned the fairness of allowing transgender-identifying athletes to compete alongside women, particularly in swimming. FINA, the international swimming federation for the Olympics, voted to not allow any athlete who had experienced male puberty to compete on women’s teams. Notably, this decision would bar swimmer Lia Thomas’s stated goal of competing in the Olympics.

The president of World Athletics, Lord Sebastian Coe, responded similarly, hinting at the organizations’ positioning to follow FINA’s suit in banning biological males from women’s swim teams, stating his belief that “biology trumps gender,” in an interview with BBC Sport. Even the International Rugby League has currently banned biological males from playing on women’s rugby teams, according to an official statement: “Until further research is completed to enable the IRL to implement a formal transgender inclusion policy, male-to-female (transwomen) players are unable to play in sanctioned women’s international rugby league matches.”

Back in the United States, there are members of state and federal government looking to take action. Many states have already begun to introduce and pass bills banning transgender-identifying athletes from competing in women’s sports. At the Capitol, Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) has presented his Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act in the House, though Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has refused to allow it on the floor. Earlier this week on “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins,” Rep. Steube shared his hopes to see progress on protecting women’s sports come in the midterms.

“It’s a sad day in America where we actually have to do a bill to lay out a framework in a policy from Congress that biological men cannot be in women and girls’ locker rooms, can’t be competing with them on the sports fields,” Steube lamented. “It’s a sad day in America that we’re forced to do this, but I’m happy to stand with women.”

Marjorie Jackson is a reporter for The Washington Stand and FRC's Digital Media Specialist.