Human Rights Campaign & Athlete Ally Call on NCAA to Include Non-Discrimination Language & Enforceable Protections for Transgender Athletes In New Constitution

by Wyatt Ronan

Call Follows the NCAA’s Release of Draft Constitution Absent Non-Discrimination Language Ahead Of 15th Special Convention to Discuss the Proposal

Today, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Athlete Ally sent a letter to National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) President Mark Emmert and NCAA governance calling on the organization to include non-discrimination protections and rules protecting transgender athletes from hateful and discriminatory anti-trans laws as they amend their constitution. This week the NCAA released a preliminary version of their amended constitution that stripped the governing document of previously existing non-discrimination policy language, prompting HRC Interim President Joni Madison to ask, “Where are the protections for LGBTQ+ students? For women? For students of color?”

The NCAA is holding a Special Convention on November 15th to present and discuss the proposed constitutional changes, and the final proposal will be voted on in January.

“The NCAA should be proud of its history of action stopping anti-equality bills from imposing discriminatory policies on LGBTQ+ people across the country. This year, during an historically bad legislative session for anti-LGBTQ+, and specifically anti-trans, bills, we asked for the NCAA’s help in once again standing up to discriminatory bills that targeted vulnerable transgender kids,” said Human Rights Campaign Interim President Joni Madison. “While they offered words of rebuke toward the states responsible for advancing this legislation, their actions did not meet the moment. Their new draft constitution in its current form would leave LGBTQ+ students, women, and students of color exposed and vulnerable with no non-discrimination protections, just as anti-equality legislators and well-funded anti-equality groups ratchet up the attacks. Students need the NCAA’s leadership and the organization still has an opportunity to provide it by amending their constitution to include our recommended protections. Otherwise the NCAA athletes of tomorrow will be prevented from playing high school sports today.”

“LGBTQI+ athletes deserve to be their full selves in all areas of life, including on the playing field,” said Hudson Taylor, Founder and Executive Director of Athlete Ally. “This requires governing bodies like the NCAA to make their values of inclusion and non-discrimination clear, to put these values into action by explicitly guaranteeing non-discrimination protections, and to establish clear consequences for institutions and venues that do not comply.

At a time when transgender athletes are facing the worst state legislative attacks in history simply for wanting to play the sports they love, the NCAA has the opportunity to model what truly safe and inclusive spaces can and should look like. Every moment that the NCAA fails to act in support of LGBTQI+ students is a moment that another LGBTQI+ athlete drops out of sport, missing out on invaluable lifelong lessons and experiences, as well as a powerful physical, mental and social outlet.

Access to sport is a human right, and it is on the NCAA to uphold that right with integrity.”

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 like 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 this 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.

Key Excerpts From Today’s Letter:

“...The NCAA’s history of making explicit commitments to inclusion and diversity in sports, including being ‘committed to ensuring that NCAA championships are open for all who earn the right to compete in them,’ has been critical to the safety and success of a wide range of student-athletes...”

”...But this year, during a historically bad legislative session for the LGBTQ+ community in modern history, when state legislators were specifically targeting transgender student-athletes, the NCAA remained on the sidelines...”

“...By leaving these students vulnerable, without a standard policy ensuring they can participate on an equal playing field, you stand to jeopardize not only the future of countless student-athletes but the future of athletics...”

“...[T]he attacks are not going to stop here. Our opponents are just testing the waters. They may be targeting K-12 athletes now, but who is the next generation of college athletes? They are coming for college athletes. And ultimately -- they are coming for all LGBTQ+ people. You have an opportunity -- right now -- to do better. And you must.”

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.

Last month, the Human Rights Campaign called on the NCAA to only consider ‘Final Four’ host cities in states that have not passed anti-transgender legislation in response to an NCAA’s announcement that it will consider hosting both men’s and women’s Final Four tournaments simultaneously in the same city based on an external gender and equity review.

The full text of the Human Rights Campaign and Athlete Ally’s letter to the NCAA can be read here.

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