USA Swimming Passes Amendment Increasing Inclusion for Transgender Athletes

Photo Courtesy: USA Swimming

By Ryan Gibbons, Swimming World Intern.

This weekend, USA Swimming’s annual House of Delegates (HOD) meeting took place at the United States Aquatic Sports Convention in Jacksonville, FL. Among the many amendments passed included a proposal known as R-1, which further outlined the rights of transgender athletes and their participation in the sport.

The amendment, proposed by the board of directors, was passed without discussion on September 29. While somewhat overlooked, the new rule provides greater protection and definition for transgender athletes. It was given the formal purpose “to support a sport culture of inclusion and diversity, while assuring a fair competitive environment and seeking a national directive that does not permit modification at the local level (as local and state laws often differ by region).”

National-level Protection

diversity-select-camp

Photo Courtesy: USA Swimming

The amendment first outlines a clear process for athletes to request a change in their gender listed by USA Swimming. Per the new amendment to the registration process: “Any athlete wishing to change his or her competition category may apply to do so following the procedures outlined in the current USA Swimming Policy Manual.”

Furthermore, R-1 allows athletes to swim in their chosen category after a protest has been filed until the protest is heard by the National Eligibility Appeal Panel (a rule applying to all athletes under such protests). It states:

Protests regarding an athlete’s competition category may only be heard by the National Eligibility Appeal Panel as outlined in the current USA Swimming Policy Manual. A protest shall not prohibit the athlete from competing in his or her stated competition category until such time as the National Eligibility Appeal Panel has issued a decision.

Notably, this protection was added to the so-called “blue section” of the USA Swimming rule book – the section referred to by meet referees during competitions, thus expanding immediate protection to competitors. R-1 also expands the protections granted by the USA Swimming Code of Conduct under the Amateur Sports Act, adding gender identity to the list of traits protected against discrimination (which already includes gender and gender expression). While R-1 applies to most domestic competitions, elite-level athletes must compete under the rules of the governing international organization (for example, the International Olympic Committee).

USA Swimming has previously recommended that clubs and LSCs recognize gender choice. However, no requirement existed at the national level to allow gender choice, meaning that local areas were not required to allow athletes to compete under a chosen category nor respect their requests.

Because of this, R-1 is a major step for USA Swimming towards increasing LGBTQ+ inclusion, as it creates national protections for swimmers that replace any conflicting club or LSC policies, guaranteeing these for all athletes and extending increased participation to members of the transgender community.

USA Swimming’s policy towards transgender athletes is unique: unlike many sports governing bodies, it does not require conversion surgery to allow athletes to change their stated gender. Rather, swimmers can request gender choice without medical treatment.

Fighting Discrimination

schuyler-bailar-harvard

Photo Courtesy: Sydney Claire Photography. Schuyler Bailar, the first openly transgender NCAA DI swimmer, is pictured after transitioning.

Swimming has generally had a very low participation rate of transgender athletes. Furthermore, across the entire sports world, many transgender athletes are faced with bullying or discrimination – USA Swimming’s LGBTQ Cultural Inclusion Research Guide notes that over 28 percent of transgender athletes face harassment because of their orientation.

Yet, USA Swimming’s recent commitment to diversity – including a large diversity and inclusion initiative – has aimed to greatly increase minority participation in the sport through camps, programming, and education for swimmers and coaches.

R-1’s immediate implementation reflects this growing diversity and acceptance; it is a major step towards ensuring equal treatment, inclusion, and opportunity for all USA Swimming athletes.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

44 Comments

44 comments

  1. avatar
    Mike

    I was hoping swimming would stay insulated from all this.
    This is ridiculous

  2. Andrew McCulloh

    Inclusiveness is a great thing and we do need it. How does this not invalidate men’s and women’s cuts if someone with male hormones can compete against athletes with only female hormones?

    • Mike Monday

      Absolutely. That’s one of the many reasons why male and female cuts are different in the first place.
      This does way more harm than good and has the potential to take away from athletes who’ve trained hard and it all be taken away by someone who feels like being a man or woman today.
      More clear guidelines for this are a must.

    • Heather York DiFulvio

      Many transgender females never get high levels of testosterone if they started hormone therapy before puberty (like Jazz on the reality show I Am Jazz). And I’ve heard reports, though I can’t state it as fact, that taking female hormones has a huge impact on current levels, strength, musculature, etc. While we can surmise results all day long, I think we need to see if it’s a problem first before assuming it is. I would guess that there will be rules in place, based on medical knowledge, that a transgender person has to have been transitioning for a certain amount of time or at a certain point in their transition. I doubt we’re going to have a male swimmer declare he is now transgender, put on a suit and be allowed to compete against girls. That’s not transgender, that’s cross-dressing (at best) or cheating (at worst).

    • Andrew McCulloh

      Heather – from the article:
      “USA Swimming’s policy towards transgender athletes is unique: unlike many sports governing bodies, it does not require conversion surgery to allow athletes to change their stated gender. Rather, swimmers can request gender choice without medical treatment.”

    • Lisa Ward

      This is what bothers me. It has also been an issue in track and field.

    • Bill Kirkner

      Simply as a factual matter, women’s ovaries do produce testosterone, and men do have estrogen naturally (NOT as an oddball occurrence…) I think the fact that surgical intervention is not required is largely due to the fact that the majority of athletes (and therefore the majority of cases likely to be encountered) in USA Swimming will be for age-group athletes, who may be below the recommended age for surgical procedures.

    • Heather York DiFulvio

      Andrew McCulloh – Fair enough, that passage implies all you have to do is declare such. However, I wonder what they mean by “medical treatment”. Do they mean gender confirming surgery? Do they mean they don’t need to be on any sort of hormones at all? (which may be the case in prepubescent swimmers) Do they count being under the care of a psychologist?
      One of the things I wonder is what boy (since the concern is how much stronger a male is compared to a female, so the concerns aren’t the same for a female) will live his life as a female and compete as a female to win swim meets as a female if he isn’t a female? Prior to puberty, I’ve found swim times favor the boys, meaning the girls have to be faster. The boys’ times don’t get faster/harder until 13/14, when puberty fully starts kicking in. I think that there will have to be a lot of flexibility as these things are figured out.

    • Amy Schlegel-Havig

      Heather unfortunately though it’s happening in high school sports. Boys are winning in girls track and field and wrestling. I know their was a lawsuit filed by a group of the girls parents over this but don’t know how that is progressing.

      • avatar
        Lovely Lela

        Wow, your post is deliberately insulting. Those are trans girls in track and field. Trans girls are girls, ergo, those are girls in track and field. In wrestling, it was asinine rules in the first place in which Texas enforced a “gender at birth” rule for high school athletes. This was a trans boy who was forced to compete in the girls division against his wishes. Unsurprisingly, he destroyed his competition. He was on hormone therapy and a good wrestler, and is a prime example of why such rules are as stupid as the people espousing them.

      • avatar
        Chloe

        Lela.

        The transboy case was ridiculous. Because that transboy should have been treat the exact same was as any other female competitor who was doping. So they should never have been in a position to ‘destroy the competition’. Common sense is needed.

        And this policy is not common sense, nor is it fair in any way on the females involved in this. Biology gives a large advantage to male people in terms of sport. This needs to be recognized. But isn’t, because girls/women don’t matter.

      • avatar
        Lovely Lela

        Chloe, your position reveals your bias against trans people. Max Beggs is a boy, now man. He was not “a female competitor who was doping.” And your assertion that trans women in sports are a sign of marginalization of women is equally stupid, mean, and exclusionary. Transgender people are not taking anything away from cisgender people, and your obtuse mentality that refuses to recognize this fact are at the heart of the ugliness of such “debates.”

    • Kathleen Klein Prindle

      Mike Monday please do check out the Policy – clearer guidelines WERE instituted to protect against anyone who just wants to ‘change gender back and forth to achieve cuts’. Agreed that would be an incredible abuse of an inclusive environment. The new inclusion policy is just a small step which attempts to balance competitive fairness with inclusion.

    • Mike Monday

      Kathleen Klein Prindle any way you look at it, it’s not fair.
      I have women teammates who think this policy is absolutely ridiculous.

  3. avatar
    Philippa

    I think it’s completely unfair. A man who undergoes a male to female transgender has much more advantage than a biological woman. Copied this from a report … athletes who grow up as men have already enjoyed an increased ability to build muscle and bone mass for years, which accounts for endurance and strength differences between biological men and women. And a few years of hormone suppression does not reverse these effects. “Typically, you’re looking at about 15 years after [hormone] suppression and [sex reassignment surgery] to really start to see significant changes in bone density,” Men are so much physically stronger than women how could it ever be fair? Makes a mockery of the competition.

      • avatar
        Christine

        Lovely Lela, I just read the article per the link you provided and I think it’s misleading to portray the information as proof that it would be fair to women to compete against a person born as a man but who is on transitional hormone therapy. The study only included 8 people who participated in distance running. Even the author recognized that this does not constitute proof or come anywhere near settling the matter. There are so many other factors that could have affected the change in race performance other than a change in testosterone levels, such as the runners age, training level, etc. This in addition to the fact that they didn’t study swimming. It could be that performance in each sport is affected to a different degree. Even within swimming, there could be a great deal of difference between distance events and sprint events. It’s not at all unreasonable to be concerned about the fairness of this policy to female competitors who were born female.

      • avatar
        Lovely Lela

        Except that there are strict standards in place. It’s not like all the dummies on here and so many other places claiming that you just choose to compete as the other gender. There is a process, and it is quite involved, and standards are set appropriate for the level of competition in question.

        In that article you have a scientist who is also trans and also an athlete collecting real, unbiased data because she is concerned herself. She is doing actual real research to learn the truth while most here speculate negatively according to the confirmation bias they are actively seeking out.

        I agree, she had a small sample size. But she is collecting data that is very hard to find. Trans people aren’t that common, few are athletes, and catching them across transition is nearly impossible. So in spite of your criticism, I welcome her existing and future work and applaud her for seeking the truth. Hers is some of the best data currently available, so we should be drawing regulations accordingly. Hence why she is also an advisor to the IOC.

      • avatar
        Christine

        I’m not criticizing the author’s effort or discouraging future effort. I’m sure it’s very hard to find subjects to study and she put forth her best effort. But, just because she tried her best doesn’t mean that she came up with scientifically valid conclusions that should be used to support a change in policy for swimming. In fact, she wasn’t even studying swimming. There is mountains of scientific research on the physiological advantages that men have over women. Can that advantage be completely reversed as a result of hormone therapy? No one knows the answer to that question, and a study of 8 people is not enough to make any claims one way or another.
        I don’t think the people commenting are “dummies”. As you are aware, it’s a very difficult topic to study, so what exactly are the “standards” you reference above based on? You are obviously very sensitive to the needs of trans athletes, which is great. However, have you tried to look at it from the perspective of the non-trans female athlete? Are you really so sure that being born male, even if undergoing hormone therapy, doesn’t give a natural advantage? I’m not.

      • avatar
        Lovely Lela

        I acknowledge that a sample size of 8 fails to satisfy the requirements of the central limit theorem as it relates to statistical validity. However, small sample sizes can still reveal intriguing differences that are later borne out by larger studies.


        Your assertion that “there is mountains of scientific research on the physiological advantages that men have over women” draws a false equivalency between trans women and men. Trans women, particularly trans women athletes when they reach upper echelons of competition are subject to a variety of strict regulations. For IOC, they have to have a testosterone level below 10 nmol/L for a minimum of 12 months ahead of competition and must remain that low throughout the competition. While the surgery requirement has been removed (violation of human rights), this is a very low level and for many it means it still requires surgery to achieve. It is worth noting that cis women have a “healthy range” of testosterone around 0.5-3 nmol/L. So trans women are indeed strictly limited in their hormone levels, but cis women do tend to have slightly lower values. There is talk right now of reducing the IOC requirement for trans women to less than 5 nmol/L. Another consideration is that the tests used to assess testosterone levels aren’t terribly accurate at the lower limit of detection (common for many assays). The hyperandrogenic woman in that article had levels in excess of those required by trans women. So this is not an issue that can be easily decided, but it should be approached in a way that preserves the dignity of those involved, including the trans athletes. By doing so, no one is taking anything away from cis athletes and that kind of victim mentality is very prevalent among those who oppose trans rights in any fashion.


        There are many governing bodies across the world in sports, and each has their own standards, some being more restrictive than others. It makes sense to have the strictest standards at the highest levels of competition and more lax policies at lower levels (e.g., high school). Contrary to the “dummies” here and elsewhere, no men are just claiming they are a girl in order to win a medal. I get so angry when I see trolls disparaging children who already have it very difficult as trans people in the first place. And they are trolls and dummies with preconceived ideas and without the capacity to consider new evidence or circumstance.


        see: https://www.transathlete.com/policies-by-organization

  4. Val Acosta Mehta

    This presents some interesting questions because yes cuts are different for men and women. Suppose time will tell.

  5. Kathleen Klein Prindle

    this new legislation simply puts into place checks and balances and formalizes a PROCESS which hasn’t existed yet in our sport. Up until now we haven’t had anything to regulate or support gender inclusion. The policy is inclusive, as we are an inclusive sport as per our rulebook… but policy also balanced that with competitive fairness. Please read the Policy and Procedures which were approved by the Board of directors at Convention to see. the new rules do establish that an athlete can change their competition category (from male
    to female for example) but not without a panel review and a 7-step process. It’s pretty straightforward for young or pre-pubescent athletes but at the higher levels of competition and for meet/team
    selections, all qualifying procedures defer to the current USOC/IOC criteria which do require medically-verified testosterone levels, among other things, and follow the current FINA criteria at the top level. Also, a formal
    Protest procedure has been established for those who really feel that an instance is unfair.

    • Heather York DiFulvio

      Thank you for clarifying. I knew it couldn’t be as cut and dried as “I’m a girl now”.

  6. Susan Strickland Scruggs

    If transgender they should have their own time standard or go with the standard of the xY or XX chromosome factor.

  7. Mary Gursky

    This absolutely ridiculous! It’s UNFAIR to female athletes and supports and promotes this mental illness ! YES , transgenderism IS a mental illness 😢 sad day for the swimming world obviously USA Swimming has been hijacked by the left 😢

  8. avatar
    Lovely Lela

    See Joanna Harper’s research on trans athletes rather than spouting your preconceived prejudices.

    “data can be explained by the fact that, after one year of HRT, transgender women have testosterone levels below the mean of cisgenderwomen (2) and hemoglobin levels equal to that of cisgenderwomen (2).”

    So, there is nothing to get excited about here. You can just go back to training now.

  9. Lisa Jacobs Miller

    I think as far as sports are concerned you should only be allowed to compete in the gender you were born as. IMO

    • avatar
      Lovely Lela

      Lisa the data say otherwise. Therefore, your opinion is wrong, and the very definition of a stupid opinion.

    • Emily Daniels

      Kyle Sockwell so you hope that a transgender athlete who meets the requirements set forth for them to compete as a transgender isn’t successful? This article clearly says Laurel met all IOC and IWF criteria for competition and had to prove testosterone levels in order to compete as a female. So you’re basically saying you hope that a transgender athletes who plays by the rules doesn’t succeed.

    • Kyle Sockwell

      Emily Daniels Yes – I do not believe the regulations in place today actually level the playing field in the slightest when it comes to transgender inclusion in female athletics. A great example of this comes from weightlifting as seen in the article above.

    • Emily Daniels

      So you’re an expert on the subject in regards to hormones and their effect in performance and regulations? Maybe you should be writing the policies then. Seems to me you just don’t support an inclusive and successful environment for all. I sure hope you aren’t confronted with any transgender athletes and parents of those athletes on your team where you have to deal with this directly. So in your expert medical opinion (I am assuming you have a medical degree and are educationally qualified to make such opinions), what should these regulations be?

    • Kyle Sockwell

      Emily Daniels Just because my opinion on the topic differs from yours on the topic doesn’t mean we need to start assuming things. I have actually done extensive research on the topic, consulted friends in the medical, and competitive spaces and heard similar responses to mine. The testosterone levels suggested are astronomically high comparatively and without much stricter regulations we’ll continue to – and likely more and more often – see the male to female transgender athletes take over the podium.

      Disclaimer: If you’d like to continue discussing this topic, I’d hope we could do so in a more respectful and civilized manner without feeling the need to assume stances on inclusion…”Seems to me you just don’t support an inclusive and successful environment for all.”

    • Emily Daniels

      You specifically stated you hoped it doesn’t happen in our sport which does sound like you’re not supportive of transgender athletes. Also the assumption was a sarcastic comment to say that those of us without advanced medical degree on the subject really can’t say much for or against when it comes to this subject. All we can do is personal research which is great but only counts for so much. I also asked what you think the regulations should be since you don’t think they are currently good enough.

    • Kyle Sockwell

      Emily Daniels lowered testosterone level regulations in the least. In the example I presented above, it’s unfair to the female competitors simply due to bone density advantages acquired over time by Laurel compared to female lifters who weren’t able to train with the weights Laurel did with for years.

    • Kyle Sockwell

      Emily Daniels All for an inclusive environment, but never at the expense of other athletes. That’s all I’m going to say on the topic. Best.

    • Emily Daniels

      As I said I hope you don’t have a direct experience with a transgender athlete on your team.

  10. Shirley Hancock

    By trying to give equality to some you are taking equality a

    • Shirley Hancock

      Away from others so in the end it’s not equal!

      • avatar
        Mad Myrna

        But it’s not equal now. And your opinion is not supported by the data. You are only contributing to the ongoing hostility towards trans people.

  11. Wyatt Fate

    So I’m going to start racing girls because I simply “identify” as one and if you say it’s wrong you are a racist bigot

  12. Rick Parker

    PC bullshit. There is no such thing as trans-gender.

Author: Ryan Gibbons

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Ryan is a swimmer and aspiring journalist based out of Central Florida. Having swum for over eight years, he's quite familiar with the ins and outs of the sport and its characteristics. As an LSC Athlete Representative, he has extensive experience with the administrate and governance sides of swimming.

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