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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

NAIA ruling to ban transgender women from competing in sports will affect Inland Northwest colleges

Lindsay Hecox, a transgender athlete who attended Boise State University, testifies against House Bill 500 during an Idaho Senate hearing in 2020.  (Sami Edge/Idaho Education News)
By Lauren Rendahl and Ellen Dennis The Spokesman-Review

A pair of colleges in the Inland Northwest whose sports teams are overseen by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics face a new reality: transgender athletes will soon be banned from competing on women’s teams.

Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho and Walla Walla University are among the 241 small colleges across the nation bound by the NAIA ruling that goes into effect Aug. 1.

As of Tuesday afternoon, neither college had a statement on the new policy, and both declined to comment.

The NAIA Council of Presidents voted 20-0 on Monday at their annual convention in Kansas City, Missouri, to make the shift. Under the new regulations, only athletes assigned female at birth or those who have not started hormone therapy are allowed to compete in women’s sports.

If a student has begun hormone therapy, they can work out, practice and participate in team-related activities but they cannot compete, according to the transgender participation policy.

All athletes are still allowed to participate in NAIA-sponsored male sports.

Out of the 83,000 athletes involved in NAIA sports, the organization does not track how many trans athletes are currently participating. The current NAIA policy allows transgender and nonbinary athletes to compete in gender-divided sports.

The new ruling arrives amid ongoing challenges for transgender athletes seeking inclusive sports opportunities as 24 states have enacted laws prohibiting transgender women and girls from participating in specific women’s or girls’ sports competitions, though some have been challenged.

In 2020, the Idaho Legislature passed the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” a law that banned transgender girls and women from participating in women’s high school and college sports in the state. The bill conflicted with preexisting NCAA and Idaho High School Activities Association policies.

The bill signed by Idaho Gov. Brad Little was challenged by lawyers on behalf of Boise State University student Lindsay Hecox in a case that has made its way to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Last year, the appeals court blocked Idaho’s Fairness in Women’s Sports Act from taking effect until litigation over the law is complete.

As of now, the new ruling has not impacted the NCAA’s policies regarding transgender athletes, which allows them to compete as long as they comply with the guidelines set by their respective international sports governing bodies starting Aug. 1.

The NCAA did release this statement: “College sports are the premier stage for women’s sports in America and the NCAA will continue to promote Title IX, make unprecedented investments in women’s sports and ensure fair competition for all student-athletes in all NCAA championships.”