Roy Exum: The Fair Thing To Do

Friday, January 17, 2020 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

More times than not, I stand solidly against laws, rules, or, in particular, any human beings who discriminate against others. Yet in a bill just proposed in the Tennessee State Legislature, I am very much in favor of an anti-transgender bill. I feel the legislation – which is very regrettable although necessary -- will move very fast towards Governor Bill Lee’s desk and just as quickly receive his signature. Ironically, there is no way HB 1572 cannot discriminate against fellow Tennesseans but, overwhelmingly, will help more than it will hurt. 

It reads, “TN HB1572 -- As introduced, requires elementary and secondary schools that receive public funding to ensure that student athletes participate in school-sanctioned sports based on the student's biological sex as indicated on certificate issued at time of birth; provides for the cessation and restoration of the school's public funding; establishes a civil penalty of not more than $10,000; requires a public official to vacate the official's office for taking certain actions contrary to the intent of the law.”

What has been allowed to happen is that some male athletes, deemed as such by their birth certificate, can now approach any agency or organization and declare they are transgender, or female.

But where the rub begins is that many believe there is no difference between a boy and a girl – despite the obvious when you peek in any pair of underpants. Boys seem to run faster, and girls are prettier. Hair grows on men’s faces and females get pregnant. According to a Williams Institute of Law (UCLA), more than 8 million adults in the United States are lesbian, gay, or bisexual, comprising 3.5 percent of the adult population. In total, the study suggests that approximately 9 million Americans – roughly the population of New Jersey – identify as LGBT.

You and I both know that often it is nigh impossible to distinguish the visual difference in a heterosexual and a homosexual at a casual glance. But what is happening in sports is that some transsexuals – declaring opposite of a birth certificate – are suddenly dominating traditional girls’ sports and the outcome is totally unfair to more than 90 percent of Americans. Selina Soule, a biological female who is a sprinter, told Fox News' Laura Ingraham that the situation is "very frustrating, because I know I have put in — some of my friends and fellow competitors have put in — so much time and effort to take down our times and compete ourselves better, but we are not physically able to be competitive against someone who is biologically a male." 

Tennessee is not alone in trying to do the right thing. Similar legislation that would ban transgenders from competing against biological females are now being considered in Washington, New Hampshire, Georgia and Missouri. A majority of the remaining states will soon fall in line and, with the Tokyo Olympics starting in July, transgender athletes are a huge dilemma – what is the fair thing to do? Last fall a trans athlete, a male-born cross-country runner identifying as female, was the Athlete of the Week in the Big Sky Conference.

Better yet, tell me what’s the fair thing to do in this one:  In New Zealand, transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard won gold medals last summer at the Pacific Games in Samoa. It turns out that Hubbard, who is a biological male and had previously competed as Gavin Hubbard, also won two silver medals in a women's world championship two years ago. He hopes to compete in the Tokyo Olympics this summer. But what do you tell her? That’s right, he is now a she. What’s fair?

Sports administrators from Little League to Wimbledon all want to do what’s right. Yet who’s to say what's the fair thing to do, other than create a transgender classification that would add to “mens” and “womens,” which would be so costly it would never become feasible. I can tell you already where this is going – sometimes in life you are going to be disappointed and on biological females everywhere, we must realize they dream about the finish line too – they deserve a level field.

Since 2017 two transgender athletes – both biological males – have won 15 state championships in track, breaking the records of 10 biological females. That is markedly unfair. A study in New Zealand found that the reduced male hormone levels currently deemed acceptable by the International Olympic Committee for trans athletes is not enough to make it fair for women athletes. Reuters quotes the study as stating those reduced levels in transitioning males are still "significantly higher" than those of women.

State Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) had no qualms in sponsoring the Tennessee bill. In an email response to the Tennessee Star website, Griffey wrote, “We are seeing more and more transgender athletes competing and posting victories in traditionally gendered sports competitions, and doing so to the detriment of girls and women biologically born female. Boys and men, due to testosterone levels, bigger bone structure, greater lung capacity, and larger heart size, have physical advantages in sports relative to girls and women,” he stated. 

The uptick in anti-transgender legislation comes after the U.S. House passed a Nancy Pelosi-driven “Equality Act” that would make "gender identity" a protected category under federal anti-discrimination laws. That would force public schools to expand female athletic teams to include biological males who identify as girls, according to The Daily Caller. (Don’t worry … while the Pelosi bill has unanimous support from Democrats in Congress, the bill is expected to go down in flames in the Senate.)

Many of the world’s top female athletes are also opposed. In the CBNews website, a story appeared that said tennis great Martina Navratilova, and British Olympian Kelly Holmes, and marathoner Paula Radcliffe, have openly warned that allowing trans women to compete against biological women can never be fair and will potentially do great damage to women's sports. The 1980 British Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies told the Guardian, "I believe there is a fundamental difference between the binary sex you are born with and the gender you may identify as. To protect women's sport, those with a male sex advantage should not be able to compete in women's sport."

The CBN article also pointed out, there is an overall worry of what the true definition is of a “transgender.” This is to say at what stage of the transition from one sex to another. “Students may refer to themselves as transgender regardless of what stage of "transition" they are in … and if the athlete in question has taken any step toward transitioning at all,” Griffey said. One study by CBN News showed reduced testosterone levels in transitioning males still doesn't make males the same as females.

At Sweden’s Karolinska Institute there was a study of males transitioning into females that found even after a year of treatment, such as testosterone suppression, such markers as muscle strength, size, and composition still resulted in the advantage for transwomen over biological women. No one knows how long a male must be under such treatment before the playing field is level, or if it can ever be level.

I say any such playing field is impossible. Thus, there is no way to be totally fair. The trans athlete cannot compete with the boys, nor the girls. So, we must do for the majority. That’s the American way. And as bitter a pill as it is in sports to exclude any who want to play, we must defer to the biological females over those who were not as blessed at birth as they were.

* * *

Just last week Marilyn Voges Brown, who I adored, went to heaven and they’ve already named the community tennis courts on Lookout Mountain in her memory. Marilyn was one of the best tennis players in the University of Chattanooga’s history as, as the team’s top player, she was evermore a gem. What is delicious story it is that when Marilyn played, UC didn’t have a women’s team … she was No. 1 and captain of the boy’s team … and they could beat any college you care to name. She was named as the university’s Homecoming Queen, too.

* * *

Some years ago, one of my favorite-ever golf partners moved to Florida, this after Judy Eller Street helped host the SEC basketball tournament in Chattanooga and spent hours volleying tennis balls with me when she was raising her family here. Judy, the fairest of the Ellers’, who were Tennessee’s First Family of Golf for generations, dusted off her sticks and soon became the first grandmother to ever be named as the “Athlete of the Year” on a college team.

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