The NCAA, which regulates college athletics in the U.S., backed transgender athletes Monday, saying it won’t hold championship events in locations that aren’t “free of discrimination.”
As Republicans in more than two dozen states target transgender athletes, the NCAA Board of Governors said it "firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports."
It said its "more inclusive" policy for transgender athletes, which requires testosterone suppression treatment for transgender women to compete in women's sports, means “inclusion and fairness can coexist for all student-athletes, including transgender athletes, at all levels of sport.”
The board said it would monitor situations regarding trans athletes' participation without specifically mentioning states that have banned it or are considering bans. It did say the "environment" could affect the locations of championship games.
"When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected," the statement said. "We will continue to closely monitor these situations to determine whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants."
Asked whether the statement meant the NCAA wouldn't hold championship games in states that passed laws limiting trans athletes' participation, a spokesperson said, "The Board of Governors continues to monitor the situation and has not made a decision regarding championships."
Advocates, many of whom have been calling on sports organizations and businesses to take a stand, said the statement was a welcome development.
"Dangerous proposals around the country are putting transgender young people at risk," Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. "The harm is real and is felt very personally by transgender kids just trying to live their lives as who they really are. The NCAA is making it clear that their Board of Governors supports transgender athletes, and the board should hold those states passing these harmful laws accountable."
Almost 30 states are considering legislation that would ban transgender students from competing on school sports teams that align with their gender identities, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The measures are specifically meant to bar trans girls from participating.
Four states — Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas and Idaho — have enacted bans; a federal judge stopped Idaho's law from taking effect in August. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed two executive orders limiting trans athletes' participation after she vetoed an earlier bill.
Supporters of the bills say transgender girls have an unfair advantage in sports, but trans advocates say lawmakers are creating a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. The Associated Press found that, in almost all states considering bans, the bill's sponsors weren't aware of any cases in which trans girls' participation caused problems.
Advocates have been awaiting a statement from the NCAA, which pulled seven championship games out of North Carolina in 2016 after Pat McCrory, then the governor, signed HB 2, also known as the "bathroom bill," requiring transgender people to use the bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificates.
Last week, Tom Walton, the son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, also spoke out in response to bills targeting LGBTQ people in Arkansas, including its trans athletes' law, and a law banning transition care, such as puberty blockers, for minors.
"We support Gov. Asa Hutchinson's recent veto of discriminatory policy and implore government, business and community leaders to consider the impact of existing and future policy that limits basic freedoms and does not promote inclusiveness in our communities and economy," Walton said in the statement.
The Legislature overrode Hutchinson's veto.