A sign opposing the participation of trans girls in girls sports is propped against a fire hydrant outside of the George A. Navarre Admin Building on Thursday, June 8, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. The Alaska Board of Education met in the building to discuss a resolution that would ban trans girls from girls high school sports. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

A sign opposing the participation of trans girls in girls sports is propped against a fire hydrant outside of the George A. Navarre Admin Building on Thursday, June 8, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. The Alaska Board of Education met in the building to discuss a resolution that would ban trans girls from girls high school sports. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Peninsula residents protest trans girls in sports at state school board meeting

The Alaska Board of Education last week met at the George A. Navarre Kenai Peninsula Borough Administration Building in Soldotna

The number of people who testified against letting trans girls compete in girls sports outnumbered those in support by about three to one during last week’s meeting of the Alaska Board of Education at the George A. Navarre Kenai Peninsula Borough Administration Building in Soldotna.

Up for consideration were changes to the section of Alaska Administrative Code that governs interscholastic activities. After nearly two hours of public testimony, board members voted to send out for public comment regulations that would prevent transgender girls from competing in girls sports in Alaska schools.

The regulations being considered would create separate athletic categories for cisgender girls — whose gender identities match the sex they were assigned at birth — and other student athletes when participating in interscholastic activities in Alaska. The regulations are subject to review and approval by the Alaska Department of Law and come roughly three months after the Alaska Board of Education formalized its support for such measures.

The proposed regulation specifically says that Alaska schools and school districts may join eligible activities associations, like the Alaska School Activities Association, as long as those associations separate students in one of three proposed ways.

The association would need to provide, in consideration of a school survey, one of the following:

Separate teams for each sex with participation based on a student’s sex as assigned at birth.

One team for all students regardless of sex.

One team for cisgender females and a separate team for everybody else.

Any of the proposed team structures, the regulation says, “ensures fairness, safety, and equal opportunity in athletics.”

In all, more than 25 people testified on the issue during last week’s board meeting, nearly all of whom urged the board to advance the resolution for a public comment. Among the professional organizations who oppose the changes are the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska and the National Education Association of Alaska.

Up first was Velvet Danielson, of Soldotna, who opened her testimony with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and quoted from the Book of Genesis. Danielson said she, her daughters and her granddaughters all play or played sports in high school. She asked the board to keep as-is the proposed regulation, which separates cisgender and transgender girls.

“I don’t want (my granddaughters) to have to play against men or boys,” Danielson said, referring to transgender women and girls.

Multiple people who testified in support of the proposed changes referred to trans girls as “boys” and trans women as “men.” The term “transgender woman” refers to a person who was assigned male at birth and transitioned to align with their identity as a woman. The same is true of transgender girls.

Among those who protested the inclusion of trans girls in girls sports were student athletes from Soldotna High School.

Kaytlin McAnelly, a senior at Soldotna High School who said she is a four-sport varsity athlete, said she opposes allowing trans girls to participate in girls sports because “allowing males to compete against females would wipe out women’s sports.” McAnelly said that boys can run faster and jump higher than girls, who would not be allowed to succeed in athletics if trans girls participated.

“Forcing girls to compete against boys in sports is not fair,” McAnelly said. “Boys are physically different and are not the same as girls. When males compete against females, males have an advantage. Males tend to be stronger, faster and more athletic.”

Monica Whitman, a parent of a transgender student who testified remotely from Eagle River, called testimony from other speakers “discouraging.” Whitman expressed concerns about how the policies would be implemented, such as how the state would determine a student’s sex.

“There’s more kids that are transgender than you would expect,” Whitman said. “Are those kids going to be forced to be outed in order to continue playing sports? Also, how is the state going to determine which sex a student is? Are you going to have access to our child’s private medical records? How realistic is it that a third (coeducational) category would be adequately funded?”

Felix Myers, who serves as a student adviser to the board, said he had “about 19 reasons” why the changes should not move forward, including that they deny the existence of transgender women as women. He further said that the concerns being voiced are not happening in Alaska, that any such regulations by a nonelected board would circumvent the legislative process and that participation of trans athletes in Alaska high school sports is already regulated by ASAA on a case by case basis.

“We have the (Alaska) Reads Act, we have these computer science programs, we have all of these ways that we are actually helping the students of this state,” Myers said. “For us to delegitimize all of that work by focusing on a tiny culture war issue that is not a real issue, but does, in fact, hurt and delegitimize the students of the state who are going through being trans in a country that does not love them, is below us.”

Board Chair James Fields pushed back, saying that board members will never be able to please everybody and that ASAA has looked to the state board for guidance on the issue. Putting the regulations out for public comment, he said, will show the board “what the majority of Alaskans think,” but that he personally is “going to protect the female sports.”

“I wouldn’t say anybody wants to be in this position, but that’s where we’re at right now in our society,” Fields said. “So we need to step forward, allow it for public comment and see where it goes. It’s not the end of the world right now.”

Of the seven board members who attended Thursday’s meeting, six voted in favor of opening the issue up for public comment: Chair James Fields, Lorri Van Diest, Jeffrey Erickson, Bob Griffin, Sally Stockhausen and student advisor Maggie Cothron all voted in favor of moving the regulations forward.

Lt. Col. James Fowley, a military adviser to the board, abstained from voting. As student adviser-elect, Myers was not able to vote on the issue.

Both days of meetings can be streamed on the Alaska Board of Education website at education.alaska.gov/state_board.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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