MSHSL Board approves transgender policy

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BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. - The Minnesota State High School League voted to approve a policy regarding transgender student athletes on high school sports teams Thursday. The policy will take effect for the 2015-2016 school year.

The board heard from a jam-packed room of parents and community members on the topic, many hoisting signs pushing their opinions.

The latest draft of the now-approved policy is posted on the Minnesota State High School League website, listing the proposed guidelines for member schools. The draft allows transgender students to participate in activities in line with their gender identity after turning in a confidential written request to their school. Any appeals would be handled by the league, and private schools would be exempt under state and federal law.

"I applaud the Minnesota High School League's decision to pass a proposal that tells trans students in our community their identities matter just as much as everyone else's," said Congressman Keith Ellison in a written statement. "At a time when so many transgender students are bullied and harassed in the schoolyard, the MSHSL's decision recognizes their dignity and humanity on and off the playing field. All trans students are asking for is to be treated as human beings and I stand with them."

Minneapolis Public School Bernadeia Johnson issued a statement saying they support the league's decision.

"I applaud the efforts of students and families that have advocated on behalf of this policy. While there is still more to do, I want you all to know that we are committed to making MPS accessible and inclusive to all students," the statement said.

St. Paul Public Schools stated they, too, support the decision.

"We believe that it is our moral responsibility to welcome our students' whole selves into our schools. No child should be required to check a part of themselves at the door in order to gain access to school programming, including participation in student athletics," St. Paul Schools' statement read.

The League received more than 10,000 e-mails about the issue this fall in what's been an emotional issue on both sides.

"It really provides some guideposts for the schools to be able to really determine their policies, and how they'll actually going to ensure that sports are accessible for all students," said Monica Meyer, executive director of Outfront Minnesota, which worked with the league to come up with the original draft of the policy.

"This policy is really ensuring that transgender students get to play the sport in the gender that they live every day," Meyer said.

A sixth grade transgender boy told the board Thursday that this kind of policy would be "life changing." He said it's simply about equality.

On the other side of the issue, the Minnesota Family Council submitted a petition with more than 5,000 signatures opposing the policy.

"We would not want to take away that privilege from anyone, but the answer is not to say that you should be given special privileges above and beyond everyone else," said Autumn Leva, director of Policy and Communication for the Minnesota Family Council.

"The answer isn't to say we're just going to completely ignore physical realities, especially in the world of physical sports," Leva said.

A 10th grade volleyball player echoed that sentiment, stating boys are bigger and stronger than girls and it wouldn't be fair for them to take scholarship opportunities away.

The policy also addresses locker rooms, reading, "Every student athlete and fine arts participant should have access to a locker room, bathroom and shower facility in a safe, comfortable and convenient environment. Such arrangements must be fully considered by member schools to ensure such access and privacy."