Human Rights Campaign President Calls on NCAA to Withdraw Championship Events from States Enacting or Advancing Discriminatory, Anti-Trans Legislation

by Wyatt Ronan

With 2021 Poised to Surpass 2015 as Worst Year for Anti-LGBTQ Legislation in Recent History, HRC President Alphonso David Tells NCAA’s Mark Emmert “The Time for Concrete Actions is Now”

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As states across the country continue advancing and enacting an unprecedented slate of discriminatory, anti-transgender legislation aimed at banning transgender youth from participating in sports, Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David today called on NCAA President Mark A. Emmert and the Board of Governors to take urgent, meaningful action to stem the anti-trans momentum by withdrawing championship events from states enacting the harmful legislation. Emmert recently reinforced the NCAA’s commitment to hosting championship games in locations “free of discrimination,” followed by a statement from the Board of Governors reiterating that it will continue to monitor these developments to determine “whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants.”

In a letter sent to Emmert and the NCAA Board of Governors today, HRC’s David said:

“In Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Dakota there are now overtly discriminatory laws or, in the case of South Dakota, executive orders, banning transgender athletes from participating in sports. Similar bills are currently awaiting signature or veto by governors in Montana and West Virginia, and could soon be enacted into law. With NCAA tournaments scheduled to take place in Alabama and Tennessee in less than three weeks, the time for concrete actions is now.

“As I wrote to you last time, the number of anti-LGBTQ bills we are seeing in state legislatures across the country is unprecedented. And sadly, an unprecedented number are likely to become law. 2021 is poised to surpass 2015 as the worst year for anti-LGBTQ legislation in recent history. So far in 2021, 11 anti-LGBTQ bills have already been enacted, and another nine are already on governors’ desks awaiting signature. If these bills are enacted into law, it would mean that states will have enacted more anti-LGBTQ laws this year than in the last three years combined.”

In 2016, the NCAA Board of Governors instructed the association to relocate all seven previously awarded championship events from North Carolina after the vote of HB 2, legislation that eliminated existing municipal non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people and forced transgender students in public schools to use restrooms and other facilities inconsistent with their gender identity. The NCAA has continuously stated a firm position that if participating states do not meet the association’s “expectations of a discrimination-free environment,” they will “not hesitate to take necessary action at any time.”

“We appreciate the NCAA’s past and present leadership, including its most recent statements. But there is more that must be done because the lives of young LGBTQ people are on the line,” David wrote in the letter. “With the NCAA’s commitment to safety, how can holding tournaments in these states possibly keep student-athletes safe? The only way forward to protect the people the NCAA works so hard to serve is by sanctioning the states fueling hate and violence against our community.”

Athletes and other prominent sports figures across the country have continued speaking out against the discriminatory measures. Recently, 500 NCAA student athletes called on the Board of Governors to continue upholding its “NCAA Anti-Discrimination Policy and only operate championships and events in states that promote an inclusive atmosphere.” This month, Minnesota Lynx GM and coach Cheryl Reeve wrote: “Transgender exclusion pits woman athletes against one another, reinforces the harmful notion that there is only one right way to be a woman and distracts us from the real threats to women’s sports.” Additionally, more than 80 major U.S. corporations have stood up and spoke out to oppose anti-transgender legislation being proposed in states across the country.

The full letter from HRC’s Alphonso David to NCAA’s Mark A. Emmert can be found below.

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April 26, 2021

Dear President Emmert & NCAA Governance,

Thank you for your response to my March letter. I am also grateful for your subsequent statement condemning anti-trans sports legislation and committing to tournament host sites that are “safe, healthy, and free of discrimination,” but we need the NCAA to turn that commitment into action to achieve impact for athletes. According to our analysis and after hearing from transgender athletes across the country and in these states, the anti-transgender legislation being passed and enacted do create an unsafe, unhealthy, and discriminatory environment for transgender athletes. This merits and necessitates action from the NCAA to withdraw championship events from the states that have already enacted such legislation, and make clear that states that enact them in the future will face the same consequences.

In Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Dakota there are now overtly discriminatory laws or, in the case of South Dakota, executive orders, banning transgender athletes from participating in sports. Similar bills are currently awaiting signature or veto by governors in Montana and West Virginia, and could soon be enacted into law. With NCAA tournaments scheduled to take place in Alabama and Tennessee in less than three weeks, the time for concrete actions is now.

As I wrote to you last time, the number of anti-LGBTQ bills we are seeing in state legislatures across the country is unprecedented. And sadly, an unprecedented number are likely to become law. 2021 is poised to surpass 2015 as the worst year for anti-LGBTQ legislation in recent history. So far in 2021, 11 anti-LGBTQ bills have already been enacted, and another nine are already on governors’ desks awaiting signature. If these bills are enacted into law, it would mean that states will have enacted more anti-LGBTQ laws this year than in the last three years combined.

This is a national crisis, and one that necessitates united action, including from the NCAA. In sanctioning states that enact blatantly discriminatory laws in violation of NCAA policy, the NCAA will not only be standing on the right side of history, it will also be putting itself squarely in line with the overwhelming majority of the American people. A poll released on April 16 made clear that the vast majority of Americans, including a majority of Americans in all political parties, oppose legislation limiting the rights of transgender student athletes.

We appreciate the NCAA’s past and present leadership, including its most recent statements. But there is more that must be done because the lives of young LGBTQ people are on the line.

And to be clear, people are already dying. These bills are further fueling the stigma that is driving a wave of anti-trans violence devastating our community. So far in 2021, we are on track to more than double the number of trans and gender non-conforming people killed in 2020, which was already the deadliest year on record.

With the NCAA’s commitment to safety, how can holding tournaments in these states possibly keep student-athletes safe? The only way forward to protect the people the NCAA works so hard to serve is by sanctioning the states fueling hate and violence against our community.

Thank you again for continuing to be in dialogue with me about this issue. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions. My staff and I stand ready to assist with any information and to support the work ahead.

Alphonso David
President of the Human Rights Campaign
He/Him/His

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