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NAIA sets requirements for female eligibility in sports, including at Rocky

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Posted at 10:40 PM, Apr 10, 2024

BILLINGS - It's a historic ruling that's affecting colleges across Montana.

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) decided this week to become the first major college sports organization to ban transgender athletes from competing in women's sports.

That includes several NAIA schools across Montana in the Frontier Conference.

The NAIA represents 249 mostly small colleges and universities across the country, including Rocky Mountain College in Billings, and is the first major sports governing body to take this action.

Transgender athletes competing in athletics has become a talking point across the country and now, the debate is front and center, following the NAIA's decision to pass a transgender participation policy.

“The transgender individual, perhaps in this case, the transgender woman, because that's the isolation, the wedge," said Walt Donges, vice president of 406 Pride, which advocates for LGBTQ+ rights. “Transgender women may have more input into that decision and be able to make it work for the entire community.”

Donges and his organization are among the many concerned about the implications of the new policy, which was approved by a unanimous vote of 20-0 by the NAIA Council of Presidents.

Dr. Robert Wilmouth. Rocky Mountain College president, provided a statement over the phone.

“We very much support women's athletics,” Wilmouth said. “We understand this is an NAIA directive, and we respect the integrity they have shown with this issue.”

NAIA council members declined a request for an interview, but President Jim Carr has released a statement.

“We know there are a lot of different opinions out there,” Carr said. “For us, we believed our first responsibility was to create fairness and competition in the NAIA. We also think it aligns with the reasons Title IX was created. You're allowed to have separate but equal opportunities for women to compete.”

“Born male, transitioning female, there's going to be a little bit more body mass and more muscle mass,” Dongess said about potential advantages. “But again, once these folks start taking the hormones to become true to who they are, then that all kind of changes.”

The new policy specifies that “only NAIA student-athletes whose biological sex is female may participate in NAIA-sponsored female sports."

In a footnote it states: “For the sake of this policy, biological sex is defined by distinguishing characteristics and can be supported by birth certificate or signed affidavit.”

One caveat: Transgender men can compete on women's teams as long as they haven't started masculinizing hormone therapy.

“It's another wedge issue, meant to splinter the LGBT community,” Donges said.

The policy goes into effect on Aug. 1.