Editorial: The NAIA is masking its transphobia as fairness

Editorials represent the opinions of the editorial board of The Ubyssey. This editorial represents the opinions of the 105th Ubyssey editorial board whose term ends April 30, 2024.

On April 8, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) unanimously voted to exclude Trans women from competing with other women starting August 1, 2024. 

We strongly condemn this policy change. 

The NAIA is a collegiate sports league representing 83,000 student athletes, including UBC’s baseball, golf, softball and track and field teams.

The ruling states “Only NAIA student-athletes whose biological sex is female may participate in NAIA-sponsored female sports.”

According to the ruling, biological sex is defined by “distinguishing characteristics and can be supported by birth certificate or signed affidavit.” Not only is this a vague definition, it's also not inclusive of intersex athletes. 

The decision comes during an ongoing conversation about Trans athletes in sport, with the biggest concern being if there is a biological advantage between those assigned female at birth and those assigned male. 

“The NAIA supports fair and safe competition opportunities for all student-athletes,” reads the NAIA policy. 

Except this ruling isn’t fair. 

The ruling said Trans women face a “competitive advantage” in sport. But, a 2022 study by the Canadian Centre of Ethics in Sports found there is no clear advantage Trans women have over cis women. 

If so-called ‘fairness’ is offered at the expense of inclusion, is it actually fair? 

The NAIA is masking its transphobia as fairness. Trans women are not trying to take away wins from cisgender women — they are simply competing in sports.

Looking solely at biological sex, or even hormones, is also not a clear indication of how well an individual will do in a given sport.  Endurance athletes require different abilities than sprinters which is different from hand-eye coordination required for golfers. 

And if the concern is over advantages, why is the NAIA not addressing financial privilege? Access to high-quality equipment, infrastructure and sports staff is also advantageous to improved athlete performances. 

What makes this advantage okay? Is it really coincidental that the line of an unfair advantage is drawn at Trans women?

Although the NAIA is based in the United States where 28 states have active bans on Trans women in sport, reactionary transphobic views are on the rise in Canada too. 

The reaction from some members of our UBC community on a r/UBC subreddit thread plainly demonstrates why we needed to write this editorial in the first place. One Redditor wrote “Anyone who opposes this is delusional,” while multiple others commented “good” or “W.” 

Transphobia is unacceptable.

Additionally, as of publication time, UBC Athletics has not condemned this ruling, despite other universities doing so

The lack of swift action from UBC Athletics to protect its student athletes and to show support for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community — for which it does during volleyball’s Pride Night — is incredibly disappointing.  

Other collegiate athletics governing bodies are not in line with this policy. U Sports’s — which all other UBC varsity sports except rowing compete under — allows transgender athletes to compete in line with either their gender identity or sex assigned at birth, just not both during the same season. The NCAA takes a sport-by-sport approach to account for what advantage in each sport actually means. The International Olympic Committee has stated it is not relying on testosterone levels to determine significant advantages amongst competitors. 

When other sporting bodies have stepped up, the NAIA stance is clearly a step backwards.  

Sports are an incredibly important resource for better physical and mental health while also providing opportunities for better resilience and community building. 

Trans women should not be excluded from women’s competitions. To ban them from participating sends a very strong message that Trans women are not women and that they are not welcome in sport. 

All athletes deserve an equal and fair opportunity to compete.

The following resources are available to students looking for support:

Editorials represent the opinions of the editorial board of The Ubyssey. This editorial represents the opinions of the 105th Ubyssey editorial board whose term ends April 30, 2024.