Story by S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - The governing board of the Nebraska Schools Activity Association (NSAA) voted 6-2 Jan. 14 to force a new gender participation policy on Nebraska high school sports teams, ignoring the wishes of a majority of member schools.
The board vote came one day after most NSAA districts voted on a policy requiring students to participate in activities according to the natural-born gender expressed on a birth certificate. Two-thirds of NSAA districts approved the birth-certificate policy, which will be voted on by all member schools in April.
The policy approved by the NSAA directly contradicts the policy approved by its membership districts.
Effective immediately after the board vote, the NSAA’s new Gender Participation Policy established a gender eligibility committee that has the power to determine whether a student can play on a team according to the gender chosen by the student, instead of the gender on his or her birth certificate. The committee will issue rulings case by case, using statements from family, friends and teachers as well as documentation of the student’s “gender expression” by a health care professional.
Soon after the vote, Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln and Bishop Joseph Hanefeldt of Grand Island issued a joint statement decrying the new policy.
“The Catholic member schools of the Nebraska School Activities Association are dismayed by the arbitrary, non-collaborative decision made by the NSAA board to implement a transgender participation policy,” the bishops said. “The board’s decision circumvents the will of the voting members expressed in the democratic process that was recently completed.”
“It was surprising and disappointing that the majority of the board dismissed the position of the majority of member schools, particularly because the NSAA as an organization prides itself on being ‘member driven,’” said Sheri Rickert, general counsel and policy director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference.
She reported that at the district meetings she attended before the vote, board members assured their member schools that they would vote according to what the majority of the member schools decided.
“In three districts, that did not happen,” she said.
Rickert foresees that the NSAA’s new gender participation policy has significant and troubling legal ramifications for Nebraska high schools, “whether the schools make accommodations for transgender students or not.”
“Any policy regarding transgender students is likely to lead to litigation, either on behalf of transgender students, or on behalf of those who assert their rights have been violated by efforts to accommodate transgender students,” she explained.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has already protested the policy’s requirement for male-to-female transgender students to prove a year of hormonal treatments or major surgery before being cleared to play on a girl’s team. There is no such requirement for female-to-male transgender students.
“The ACLU is arguing that this unequal treatment may be discriminatory,” Rickert said.
Rickert stressed that students who experience gender dysphoria — believing one’s ‘true’ gender is different from one’s natural, biological gender — deserve compassionate help that is not found in the NSAA’s new policy.
“The compassionate means of addressing any psychological condition that is at variance with reality is to try to treat the condition, not to support the individual in denying reality,” she stated.
Rickert noted that researchers have not yet found a cause for gender dysphoria.
“The little research that has been done about the condition indicates that up to 80% of children who experience gender dysphoria overcome it by the time they reach puberty without medical or surgical interventions, which would indicate that the condition is not biological in nature,” she said.
That means that the NSAA’s policy might actually harm some male students. The requirement to have had gender-mutilation surgery, or a year’s worth of hormonal treatments, might inadvertently encourage a student who believes he is transgender to pursue those drastic measures instead of getting the help he needs to truly accept his body for what it is.
“The Church has compelling and profound reasons for defending the truth that God created us as male and female,” Rickert emphasized. “We do not have the right, and actually could cause harm, if we try to alter the identity with which we were endowed by our Creator.”
Furthermore, the policy can have a very negative affect on the majority of students who do not suffer from gender dysphoria.
“The consequences of denying reality become apparent, for example, when people rightly object to allowing someone to use a restroom or locker room according to their gender preference in violation of the safety and privacy rights of others,” Rickert said.
In fact, she said, this policy appears to be in opposition Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.
“A girl who fails to make the girls’ swim team because her spot on the roster was taken by a biological male student could sue under Title IX, precisely because she was discriminated against because of her sex,” Rickert ventured.
She noted that the “sex at birth” bylaw proposal that was approved by the majority of NSAA member schools at the district meeting is consistent with the interpretation of Title IX applying only to discrimination against girls and women, not on the basis on gender identity.
“Two federal judges have supported this interpretation, and it is reinforced by the fact that attempts in Congress to amend Title IX to include ‘gender identity’ have failed,” Rickert said. “The ‘sex at birth’ proposal is legally defensible.”
If the bylaw proposal passes when NSAA member schools vote on April 8, it will override the board’s Jan. 14 decision.
“The problem is that the board policy went into effect immediately, on January 14,” Rickert said. “That new bylaw provision would not go into effect until August 1… Schools will have to face any practical and legal ramifications in the meantime.”
Of course, the main issue is the welfare of all students.
“The fundamental question is not, or should not be, how does the NSAA avoid a lawsuit, but rather, what is best for all children in Nebraska,” Rickert said. “Our greatest need, and one that everyone can respond to, is for prayer that truth and genuine compassion for all students, including those who suffer from gender dysphoria, will triumph in our schools and our state.”
She strongly encourages people to learn more about gender dysphoria, the gender ideology, and the policy that has been adopted by the NSAA board of directors. Information is available at the Nebraska Catholic Conference website at www.necatholic.org.