Many of you have been begging me to file my bill from last year to protect girls’ sports (SB 140). Oh, did I ever want to, because I knew the matter of safety and fairness for all students needed to be settled. But I also knew the Senate President and Senate Majority had made it clear on more than one occasion that such “controversial” bills would not stand a chance of advancing to the Senate floor.

When I realized an alternative path forward existed and was possible, I was relieved. Our girls and young women in our schools in Alaska need to know that the doors to safe and fair athletic opportunities will continue to be wide open.

Girls play school sports for fun, exercise, and team relationships but they also play because they want to push themselves to improve their skills, because they discover that the heat of the competition challenges them to reach new levels, and because they love the sweet thrill of victory. Female athletes desire and expect their investment of time and hard work to pay off – and it should.

We need statewide policies to ensure they won’t be robbed of a spot on a roster, a chance on the court, an opportunity of a top ranking, or a shot at a scholarship. As parents, coaches, leaders, adults in our communities, we need to make sure female athletes in our schools have an even playing field, a track where they won’t face discrimination, a gymnasium where fairness isn’t relinquished and an athletic space where safety isn’t jeopardized.

Drawing the line in the sand now is important for our younger girls who are deciding whether they’re going to play sports and be serious about it.

When I knew I couldn’t get a bill through the Senate but realized that via Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) regulations (which grant authority to the Alaska School Athletic Association to administer interscholastic programs program fairly), we had a way forward, it was an understatement to say my concerns were allayed and I was elated. I was happy to provide support and assistance for the effort along the way.

Last Thursday, the Board of Education passed a resolution supporting ASAA to establish policy to ensure ongoing competitive fairness and safety, stating that the policy should provide both a girls’ division based on the student’s sex at birth and a co-ed division for students who identify with either sex or gender. The resolution stated in addition that the policy should provide an appeal process for all students.

I am thankful that the Board outlined the policy to ASAA. I’m also grateful they asked ASAA to establish the policy in time for schools statewide to know the way forward for the new school year in the fall.

Drawing the line in the sand now is important for our younger girls who are deciding whether they’re going to play sports and be serious about it. Female athletes need to know their work won’t be in vain. Coaches need policies set so they can focus on the team, on the training, on the game, to help the girls be the best they can be.

A small but loud group may be in opposition but a May 2022 Washington Post – University of Maryland poll showed only 3 in 10 Americans believe a transgender girl or woman should be permitted to participate in girls’ sports. Even after multiple years of transition hormone therapy, a biological male retains a bigger heart, a larger skeletal system, and greater muscle mass.

Three transgender females who wish to remain anonymous reached out to me while I was working on the girls’ sports bill last spring. They all agreed with my bill. Their premise was that a transgender female prioritizes acceptance by biological females and would not want to dominate them in sports or jeopardize their safety. They indicated they would not go public about their position for fear of reprisal, being cancelled, and being bullied. Those unhappy about the Board’s resolution should consider their perspective.

Those who are also worried about the impact of this proposal on transgender youth because of the high rate of mental health issues and suicide ideation need to understand that depression and suicide are on a sharp rise among teenage girls right now.

We shouldn’t solve a problem for one group by creating a problem for another group. We must value the lives of transgender youth and girls alike.

Creating a co-ed division is a solution that doesn’t create a new problem for female athletes. It is a good solution.

The policy proposed by the Board ensures EVERY STUDENT has equal opportunity: TWO OPTIONS. Every single student has two choices: either to be on a team aligned with their biological sex or be on a co-ed team. This is a reasonable solution (and is the same one that was in my bill last spring).

The views expressed here are those of the author.

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Safe & Fair: Thanks to Alaska Board of Education for resolution to protect girls’ sports

Shelley Hughes
Shelley Hughes serves as an Alaska state senator from Palmer.