PHOENIX — A former University of Arizona swimming star said Wednesday anyone born male should not be able to compete in girls’ sports, no matter their age.
Marshi Smith, the 2005 NCAA and Pac-10 Conference women’s backstroke champion, already was on record as opposing the NCAA policy of allowing transgender athletes born male to compete against females. At an event in January, she read a letter from 45 current and former female athletes and coaches threatening action against the organization, which regulates intercollegiate sports, if it does not rescind the policy.
On Wednesday, Smith said this goes beyond college and high school level sports. She said her experience convinces her that boys as young as 4 have an inherent physical advantage.
Smith expressed her views at a news conference to support Arizona schools chief Tom Horne’s defense of a 2022 Arizona law that forbids transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports.
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Horne is seeking dismissal of a lawsuit filed in federal court on behalf of two transgender girls who want to compete.
One is an 11-year-old who attends an elementary school in Tempe’s Kyrene School District and is set to attend Aprende Middle School in July, where she would like to try out for girls’ soccer and other teams. Her lawyers said she has “lived her life as a girl’’ since she was 5. They also said she has not started puberty.
The other is a 15-year-old transgender girl who attends The Gregory School, a private school in Tucson. The lawsuit says she has been on puberty-blocking medication since age 11.
Their lawyers want U.S. District Court Judge Jennifer Zipps to declare the 2022 law cannot be enforced against the two students because of their prepubescent status.
Horne contends that is irrelevant, saying there are studies showing an inherent advantage for those born biological males at all ages.
Smith said she doesn’t need to see the studies. She said she has seen it for herself, as she has a son who is 4 and a daughter who is 7.
“I can tell as a mother the difference between my 4-year-old son as compared to my daughter at the same age,’’ Smith said.
Smith has been at the forefront of the fight with the NCAA since it allowed Lia Thomas to compete on the University of Pennsylvania’s women’s team. In 2022, Thomas became the first male-born athlete to win an NCAA women’s title after transitioning to female. That occurred after Thomas competed for three years on the men’s team and was not among top contenders.
That “was really shattering to me and many of my fellow teammates,’’ Smith said.
The letter to the NCAA she and others signed seeks repeal of policies they said “allow male athletes to take roster sports on women’s teams and/or compete in women’s events.’’ The letter threatened legal action “if you do not protect female athletes from discrimination on the basis of sex.’’
Legislators approved Arizona’s 2022 law amid questions of discrimination and whether a state statute is needed.
The Arizona Interscholastic Association, which governs high school sports, already had protocols to handle requests, case by case, by transgender athletes to participate in sports. Dr. Kristina Wilson, who was on the AIA’s medical advisory board, testified that out of 170,000 high school athletes, there had been 16 requests by transgender individuals to compete.
Horne was unimpressed. “Not only am I critical of the AIA, I’ve been critical of the Biden administration who wants to make it a case-by-case basis,’’ said Horne, a Republican elected to his post in November.
Last month the U.S. Department of Education proposed a rule about how it will interpret Title IX, the section of federal law that prohibits schools from denying equal opportunities in sports based on sex.
The proposed rule would make illegal any categorical ban on students participating on sports teams “consistent with their gender identity just because of who they are.’’ It would, however, allow for instances in which schools could limit participation, though that would depend on things such as grade and education level, with an allowance that such discrimination may be justified at the high school and collegiate levels in certain sports.
Horne said that doesn’t work. “The problem with making it case-by-case is you have people of a far-left persuasion in positions of education who will lean toward letting transsexuals defeat girls in sports,’’ he said.
“It’s a biological difference between males and females,’’ Horne said. “And we need a rule and not let people, based on their political convictions, violate that rule of nature.’’
Horne brushed aside the fact that the lawsuit involves only prepubescent transgender girls, insisting that this is just the first step by law firms that champion transgender rights.
“These big law firms are trying to change our whole system and our whole culture and we have to fight them at this stage,’’ he said.
Smith agreed there should be a hard-and-fast ban against anyone born male participating in girls’ sports.
“Our daughters deserve fair competition,’’ she said. “They deserve equal opportunities. They deserve not only a chance to play but a chance to win.’’
At Horne’s news conference, Shawna Glazier of Phoenix also shared her experience, saying competition from transgender females is unfair.
“In a cycling road race, I was forced to compete against someone who was born a male and identified as a female,’’ she said, saying the cyclist’s physical advantages in outperforming women were obvious.
“It is degrading to be forced to race with them,’’ Glazier said.
No date has been set for the court hearing.
Howard Fischer is a veteran journalist who has been reporting since 1970 and covering state politics and the Legislature since 1982. Follow him on Twitter at @azcapmedia or email firstname.lastname@example.org.