Human Rights Campaign, Athlete Ally and Other Advocacy Groups Urge NCAA To Include Non-Discrimination Language In New Constitution

by Wyatt Ronan

Groups Demand the NCAA Reinstate & Strengthen Previously-Existing Non-Discrimination Language After the NCAA Revised its Policy Regarding Transgender Athletes

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Athlete Ally and 16 other national advocacy organizations publicly released a letter sent yesterday to National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) President Mark Emmert and NCAA governance calling on the organization to include and strengthen non-discrimination protections in the organization’s updated constitution. The letter was sent as the NCAA meets to vote on an amended constitution at their national convention, held between January 19th-22nd, and as the NCAA announced a new policy regarding transgender athletes. In November, the NCAA released a preliminary version of their amended constitution that stripped the governing document of previously existing non-discrimination language that would protect women, athletes of color, and LGBTQ+ athletes from discrimination in competition across the country.

Organizations that have signed onto this letter to the NCAA include: Human Rights Campaign, Athlete Ally, American School Health Association, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Athlete Ally, Equality Federation, GLAAD, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, GLSEN, Lambda Legal, National LGBTQ Task Force, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Education Association (NEA), National Women's Law Center, SAGE, School Social Work Association of America, The Trevor Project.

"If the NCAA is committed to ensuring an environment of competition that is safe, healthy, and free from discrimination, they cannot dodge the question of how to ensure transgender athletes can participate safely,” said Human Rights Campaign Vice President for Policy & Political Affairs JoDee Winterhof in reaction to the NCAA’s new policy on transgender inclusion released late yesterday. “That is precisely why we and a number of organizations across a wide spectrum of advocates are urging them to readopt and strengthen non-discrimination language in their constitution to ensure the Association is committed to enforcing the level playing field and inclusive policies they say their values require. Any policy language is only as effective as it is enforceable, and with states passing anti-transgender sports bans, any inclusive policy is under immediate threat. We are still reviewing the NCAA's new policy on transgender inclusion and how it will impact each and every transgender athlete."
"We are deeply committed to ensuring the health, safety and success of all college athletes, and this includes transgender and nonbinary athletes,” said Athlete Ally Director of Policy & Programs Anne Lieberman. “Including comprehensive nondiscrimination language in the Constitution is a core piece of this work; as we learn more about how the NCAA's new guidelines for transgender participation will be implemented, we will keep pushing the NCAA to center the lived experiences of college athletes."

Key Excerpts From Today’s Letter:

“...While decentralizing the NCAA and giving power to conferences and schools has its benefits, we are concerned that leaving the enforcement of non-discrimination protections to schools will create a patchwork of protections rather than a comprehensive policy that would protect all athletes, no matter where they play. This would be similar to the patchwork of non-discrimination policies in states, where marginalized groups in some states or cities are protected while others are left behind by localities that opt not to enact inclusive policies. The health, safety, and well-being of every athlete is paramount, and a particular challenge for transgender athletes who have to contend with discriminatory laws that are being enacted in states across the country.”
“The political climate that we have seen develop in certain state legislatures gives us little hope that non-discrimination and fair treatment are principles that will be consistently upheld by state laws, or that state policies are even trending in the right direction. This past year, legislatures across the country have passed legislation that undermines the rights and protections of marginalized groups, from anti-abortion laws that undermine the rights of people who can become pregnant, to voting disenfrachisement laws that target and disproportionately impact communities of color, to anti-critical race theory legislation, to anti-transgender laws that ban trans participation in youth sports outright. Repeated attempts by organizations and individuals to fight against inclusive interpretations of Title IX make clear that the NCAA must be an active partner in the fight for equality.”
"Our request is simple and straightforward. The NCAA should put non-discrimination language with enumerated categories in its new constitution as it did with its previous version with the clear disaggregation of gender identity…”
“…In previous fights, the NCAA has forcefully spoken up against anti-transgender legislation, committing to holding championships only in states that are “safe, healthy, and free from discrimination” in response to the 2017 passage of HB 2, the discriminatory bill in North Carolina. Transgender young people of all ages are harmed by discriminatory anti-transgender laws, and it’s important to remember that denying transgender children and youth from playing sports today is tantamount to denying the transgender NCAA athletes of tomorrow…”

In 2021, during the worst anti-transgender state legislative session on record, the Human Rights Campaign, Athlete Ally, and others called on the NCAA to step up their leadership, as the organization has done in previous anti-equality state legislative fights. The NCAA responded by publicly expressing opposition to anti-transgender laws and reaffirmed its commitment to their principle of awarding championship host sites to locations that were “safe, healthy, and free from discrimination.” Yet, after their statement, the NCAA violated its own principle by announcing softball tournaments at schools in Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee, all states that passed anti-transgender legislation last year. Ten states have enacted anti-transgender sports bans, including legislation in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Executive Orders in South Dakota.

In 2015 the NCAA spoke out forcefully against the ratification of an anti-LGBTQ religious refusal bill in Indiana, threatening to reconsider future events and the maintenance of their corporate headquarters within the state. In 2017, the NCAA refused to award any championship host sites in North Carolina in response to the legislature’s hateful and discriminatory “bathroom bill,” lifting its prohibition upon the legislature’s repeal of the law.

The full text of the letter to the NCAA can be read here.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ+ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.

Athlete Ally is a national nonprofit organization working to educate and activate athletic communities to eliminate homophobia and transphobia in sports, and to exercise their leadership to champion LGBTQI+ equality.

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