Law Review Article Examines Transgender Youth in Athletics from Legal, Theoretical, and Policy Perspectives

Law Review Article Examines Transgender Youth in Athletics from Legal, Theoretical, and Policy Perspectives

By Laurel White

A new law review article from UW–Madison School of Education faculty uses a multidisciplinary approach to shed more light on the legal, social, and political discussions surrounding transgender students’ participation in elementary and high school athletics.

Since 2021, lawmakers in more than 30 states have proposed bills mandating the exclusion of K-12 transgender students from participation in teams that align with their gender identity, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The law review article, which appeared in a recent issue of the Marquette Sports Law Review, uses traditional legal analysis, as well as social science research and an overview of the current socio-political climate to illuminate the intricacies of the issue.

“We are now in a moment of retrenchment, where we are witnessing multitiered, organized efforts to undermine equity for people with marginalized identities,” the authors wrote.

The article was co-authored by two faculty in the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis: Mollie McQuillan, an assistant professor, and Suzanne Eckes, the Susan S. Engeleiter Chair in Education Law, Policy, and Practice. Maria Lewis, an alumna from the department and current assistant professor at PennState, was also a co-author.

In the article, the authors contend that some politicians have shifted their attention from so-called “bathroom bills” that limit transgender students’ ability to use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity to proposals focused on participation on athletic teams. A number of legal challenges have emerged surrounding this issue.

“At the center of many of these legal challenges involving transgender students’ rights to compete in K-12 athletic programs is Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972,” they explain.

The article uses policy implementation research to better understand interpretations of Title IX that inhibit access to athletics for transgender students, despite the law’s inclusive intent. It also includes an overview of a new proposed Title IX rule advanced by the Biden administration.

In addition to traditional legal analysis, the authors integrate social science research, legal theories, and other practical considerations when discussing the rights of transgender athletes in K-12 schools. They also examine recent activity in state legislatures related to K-12 athletics and discuss the socio-political climate and its relation to previous health and social science studies on the topic.

Eckes has recently offered her expertise and insight in several recent media reports on lawsuits related to transgender students’ rights. McQuillan’s research on LGBTQ+ students’ well-being and inclusive practices was recently honored by the American Educational Research Association.

The full law review article, “A Solution in Search of a Problem: Justice Demands More for Trans Student-Athletes to Fulfill the Promise of Title IX,” is available here.