Everyone knows separation is unequal…except anti-trans activists like Donna Lopiano
The following editorial was written by Blake Hereth, Sam Simpson, Alison McConwell, Christopher RM Philips, Anthony Szczesiul, Carol Hay, Christa Hodapp and an anonymous author:
On September 8, UMass Lowell hosted an event billed as celebrating the 1972 creation of Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in education and school programs that receive federal funding.
The event featured Donna Lopiano, Ph.D., whose advocacy for women’s sports and Title IX is informed by her childhood encounter with gender discrimination in sports. Today, she is president of Sports Management Resources, a company she founded dedicated to equity in athletics.
Given Lopiano’s impressive pedigree, it’s even more shocking that she chose to use this opportunity and platform to advocate for the exclusion of certain women from women’s sport. Ironically, Lopiano opposes recent expansions of Title IX to include gender identity and expression, announced in June by US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.
This isn’t Lopiano’s first foray into debates about trans equity in sports. She helped create the Women’s Sports Policy Task Force, whose explicit mission is to “protect girls” by restricting transgender athletes. Last month, in Forbes, she featured the band’s “modest proposal” in Swift:
“Our non-binary solution is called the Sports Umbrella for Women. Under this umbrella, anyone who identifies as female would be welcome to try out for women’s sports teams, with one caveat: Compete,” Lopiano wrote with Mariah Burton Nelson.
For Lopiano, fairness requires both that trans women not be excluded from women’s sports and that trans women who possess a “post-puberty performance advantage” are not allowed to compete against cis women. To hear Lopiano say it, excluding trans women from competition is a minimal sacrifice — a claim that rings hollow after a moment’s thought. Competition is the beating heart of sport!
At UML, Lopiano expanded on his Forbes op-ed and repeatedly promoted the idea that there are “immutable biological differences” between men and women. According to her, post-pubescent biological males will always have natural athletic advantages over biological females. These “immutable” advantages imply that sports inequality is also immutable and therefore unfair. Or so said Lopiano.
Call it the “Immutability Argument.” Like most arguments against the inclusion of trans women in women’s sport, it is fatally flawed.
First, the argument assumes a long-debunked essentialist view of biological sex and sexual properties. Testosterone levels are highly changeable before and after puberty. For cis men, testosterone levels drop over time, sometimes requiring supplementation. In cis women, the onset of hyperandrogenism—the “excessive” presence of testosterone, androsterone, or androstenedione—effectively negates the competitive advantage that cis men enjoy. Indeed, a recent study (Handelsman, Hirschberg, and Bermon 2018) in Endocrinology Review advocating for a testosterone basis for sports equity recommends allowing cis women with hyperandrogenism to compete in women’s sports. Why not instead allow cis women with hyperandrogenism to compete with cis men?
Second, the average “testosterone gap” does not exist exclusively between cis women and cis men. This also exists between black men and white men. Researchers in a 2014 study concluded that “after adjusting for age, free testosterone levels were significantly higher in black men than in white men,” translating to “a difference race ranging from 2.5 to 4.9%”. If the immutability argument justifies the exclusion of trans women from women’s sports on the basis of higher testosterone levels, it also justifies racially segregated male athletics. Because this is an unfair extension of Lopiano’s argument, we should reject his argument.
Third, nothing in the immutability argument prohibits trans men from participating in cis men’s sports. This makes sense according to Lopiano’s reasoning: trans men have lower average testosterone and therefore lack an (unfair) competitive advantage over their cis peers. Yet it threatens to treat trans men differently from trans women solely on the basis of gender: trans women should be excluded from women’s sports, but trans men should not be excluded from men’s sports. This is precisely what Title IX prohibits of differential treatment based solely on sex!
Fourth and finally, Lopiano continued to use the phrase “immutable difference” as if it were based on scientific fact, but “immutable difference” is a phrase rooted in biological essentialism and biological determinism.
David Hull explained the negative effects of essentialism on taxonomy: Essentialism makes species natural species or categories with “essences”, but evolutionary change excludes species as static and immutable entities. Brown University biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling has argued for the existence of at least five sexes and detailed how scientists have historically politicized sex and gender, writing a New York Times op-ed detailing how those who Biology‘s search for an easily administered definition of sex and gender may derive little comfort. Variation is the rule, not the exception.
Stephen Jay Gould has argued that biological determinism is an envelope (container or form) of bad argument used to emphasize traits as the innate and “inferior” genetic endowments of the underprivileged. Gould explains how this has historically been recycled as a basis for “biologizing” social injustices. The same ingredients are at play in the argument from immutability, where the biological sciences are used to naturalize exclusion and discrimination.
For Lopiano, the natural lottery – that is, the set of natural abilities that a person possesses due to genetic factors and other factors beyond his control – favors post-pubescent men over women. post-pubescent. Lopiano asserts that proper differential athletic performance should be due exclusively to skill and training on an otherwise level playing field. Yet athletes generally vary when it comes to their natural gifts. They are athletes with natural athletic advantages, gifts they have neither earned nor cheated to acquire, who are nevertheless allowed to compete. How, then, is it fair that trans women are excluded for their supposed natural advantages?
We cannot end this answer without noting the language in which Lopiano’s ideas have been adopted. During his opening statement and question-and-answer period, Lopiano repeatedly misinterpreted transgender women as “men.” She said the “N” word twice, casually and unapologetically, mimicking (and condemning) a racist critic of racially integrated athletics. This may be why a key organizer refused our request to register the event, and why the event itself generated enough controversy to prompt a statement from the UML Chancellor and a newspaper editorial. university student.
Far from being a defender of Title IX, Lopiano proposes to limit its application in a way reminiscent of Plessy v. Ferguson, the disastrous 1896 United States Supreme Court decision that solidified “separate but equal” as the law of the land. Trans women must compete separately, just as black athletes were required to. As with the majority at Plessy, Lopiano’s argument appeals to junk science to imagine immutable differences between two groups to justify exclusion.
With trans people making up just 0.005% of the U.S. population and there are even fewer female athletes enrolled in women’s sports, it begs the question: why all the anti-trans fuss for so little? of trans people? Trans people in general (and trans youth in particular) “already face an alarming mental health crisis with high rates of depression, PTSD and suicidality”, with a 2016 study showing that trans students are 45 % more likely to attempt suicide when denied access to gender-friendly bathrooms. The stakes are therefore high for trans women. Exclude them from the catastrophe of women’s sports fields. If injustice is at issue, the injustice of excluding trans women certainly outweighs any alleged injustice towards cis women.
We should all reject Lopiano’s proposal. In its place, we should accept a model of sports equity that recognizes trans women as women of varying natural abilities. We should welcome them into women’s athletics and include them fully in competitions. We should disavow Plessy and her intellectual offspring and treat all women fairly.