ROBBINSVILLE — Transgender high school athletes in New Jersey can now play sports without a doctor’s note or official document that proves their gender identity.
The executive committee of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association approved a new policy Wednesday whereby if student-athletes want to change gender they would simply have to notify the school’s administration.
“We wanted to make a policy that is clear and concise,” NJSIAA attorney Steve Goodell said, “so that anybody reading it would understand what the rights and applications are.”
The NJSIAA governs most New Jersey high school sports. The agency first devised a transgender policy in 2009.
“The last year or so we’ve gotten some requests from the transgender community to make some tweaks,” Goodell said. “They didn’t like the idea of someone having to prove the transgender status. They really made a convincing case that this is not something the students are making up to try to game the system.”
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The NJSIAA also decided to update the policy because Gov. Chris Christie signed in July a state law that requires schools to allow students to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity or provide reasonable alternatives. The law also allows students to participate in activities — including sports — that correspond to their gender identities.
“We wanted to get ahead of this and not wait for the (state) Department of Education,” Goodell said. “We wanted to give our schools firm guidance on how this should happen.”
What sports transgender students should be allowed to play has been debated around the country. There is no reliable data on the number of transgender high school athletes in New Jersey or in the country. In New Jersey, 0.44 percent of the adult population identifies as transgender, according to a 2016 study by the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy.
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“It’s a national issue,” NJSIAA Executive Director Steve Timko said. “It’s not just a Jersey issue. It’s something that’s come on with the times, and I think we’ve been very good about keeping up with what’s happening now versus the way it was five or 10 years ago.”
In addition to not requiring proof of gender identity, the new NJSIAA policy does not allow students to switch genders in the middle of a season.
“We have our own rules about (any athlete) changing sports in the middle of the season,” Goodell said. “You just can’t do that.”
Students could play one gender sport one season and another the following season, but that is unlikely, according to Goodell.
“That’s a life decision,” he said of someone changing gender identities. “That’s not just a flippant decision they might make because they’re better in one sport than another. It’s not going to be made lightly. I think it’s going to be very rare that a student changes (gender identity) in the middle of the (school) year. If they do, they do, but that’s a life decision with a lot of (other) consequences.
Schools can appeal to the NJSIAA if they believe the participation of a transgender student in a sport would adversely affect competition, safety or both.
Goodell said he expects appeals to also be a rare event.
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — A bill to require all New Jersey school boards to provide instruction on and make accommodations for transgender students passed in both the state Assembly and Senate on June 29.
New drone policy
New Jersey high school sports teams will be able to use drones during games and competitions, under a policy approved by the NJSIAA executive committee Wednesday.
Teams will only be able to use drones for regular season games and not state tournament matchups. The NJSIAA’s previous policy banned all drones.
Schools can now use drones under the following conditions:
• Schools must follow all local, state and federal laws.
• Visiting teams must get the permission of the home school to use drones
• If one team uses a drone and the other does not, the team with the drone must make any pictures or video available to the other school within a reasonable time frame after the event is over.