A young softball players stand on base, ready to run. Two fielders stand in the background.
Currently, most sports take place in sex segregated settings, such as this girls’ youth softball league (photo by North Charleston, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

Sex segregated sport is increasingly untenable. As sports authorities and politicians enact flawed attempts to regulate who can and cannot participate in women’s and girls’ sports, the shaky foundations of the current system reveal themselves. Yet gender-integrated sports are perceived as unthinkable to many because they confront taken for granted beliefs about women’s inferiority to men. Sport is the only remaining institutional realm where sex segregation is permissible and, as such, it maintains and reproduces gender inequality. More than any other institution, sport showcases the cultural system of binary sex difference and makes it appear natural. Even people who, on all other fronts, believe in women’s equality to men, find themselves compelled by the argument that men are athletically superior to women. Gender expansive athletes, including trans, non-binary, and intersex athletes, threaten our social, economic, and political systems with disarray.

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People wearing ranbow colored masks hold signs reading, "let kids play" and "the public says no to HB 1041"
People gather to protest Indiana HB 1041, a bill to ban transgender women and girls from participating in school sports (AP Photo/Michael Conroy).

For the first time since tennis player Renee Richards in the 1970s, transgender (trans) women athletes, including Lia Thomas and Laurel Hubbard, received major media coverage in 2021. However, these athletes weren’t spotlighted because of their athletic abilities per se, but because they became political targets caught in the crosshairs of arguments about fairness and competitive advantage in sport.

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Mack Beggs, a 17-year-old transgender boy, made national headlines when he won the Texas state wrestling title in the girls’ division. AP Photo

Several cases working their way through the legal system have placed a national spotlight on the issue of transgender access to bathrooms. While some states have taken steps to allow access based on gender identity, many are considering legislation that restricts bathroom use by the sex assigned at birth.

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