A new poll from the University of Michigan’s MyVoice team found that young people held differing opinions on whether transgender athletes should compete in alignment with their gender identity.

MyVoice is an ongoing, open-ended text message poll of youth, which gathers perspectives from 14- to 24-year-olds on a variety of health and policy issues. The ongoing survey aims to elevate youth perspectives on health, health care services, public policy, and current events.

The published survey results found that nearly half of the survey’s 691 respondents (47%) thought that transgender athletes should participate based on their gender identity or personal preferences, whereas 240 out of 691 (35%) felt that transgender individuals should participate based on their sex assigned at birth; should participate in transgender-only leagues; or should not be allowed to participate at all.

Youth who supported non-restrictive inclusion of transgender athletes mostly mentioned the importance of inclusivity, “because making them compete otherwise is very disrespectful” (95 or 14% of respondents) or that gender identity is simply “who they are” (75 or 11% of respondents).

One participant responded, “Let’s not divide sport teams based on sex or gender identity in general.”

Respondents who favored more restrictive participation of transgender athletes cited concerns about the fairness of identity-based participation (183 or 26% or respondents), or because, “it’s hard for a female to be on the same competitive level as a biological male due to muscle composition despite artificial or natural hormone levels” (120 or 17% of respondents).

One participant was in favor of restricting athletes based on their assigned sex at birth “because that way they’re competing with similar bodied individuals.”

Overall, youth were unsure about the best option for greater inclusion of transgender individuals’ participation in sports. However, in identifying potential impacts from identity-based participation in sports, those surveyed focused on the outcomes of sporting events (wins and losses because of fairness concerns) for cisgender athletes while focusing on the experience of participation (societal acceptance and affirmation) for transgender athletes.

“The youth in the MyVoice cohort demonstrated empathy for their peers in suggesting there would be improved mental health outcomes and feelings of inclusion for their transgender peers,” said Alexander Waselewski, MD, pediatric endocrinology fellow at Michigan Medicine’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and the paper’s first author.

The survey also found that most young people had not personally participated in sports with transgender athletes, showing that their opinions are formed outside of personal experience. 

The team emphasized that their findings suggest that nuanced policies are needed to address the participation of transgender athletes in competitive sports and should consider the impacts on and perspective of youths most affected.

 “Any policy developed without the perspectives of youths risks being not only ineffective but also potentially harmful to youths,” wrote the authors.

The MyVoice project is led by Associate Professor Tammy Chang, M.D., M.P.H., M.S., who is a co-author of the study.

Article cited: Alexander Waselewski, M. D. (2023, February 8). Perspectives of US youths on participation of transgender individuals in competitive sports. JAMA Network Open. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2801105

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