News, On Campus

Braceras Calls Transgender Athletes A ‘Threat to Women’s Sports’ at NeW Event

According to Jennifer Braceras, allowing transgender women to compete in women’s sports is extremely harmful to female athletes.

“These female athletes are being told to measure their bodies against an impaired male body, against a male body that is being deliberately … made weaker by hormone therapy,” she said.  “This has … left deep and lasting psychological scars on the girls who have competed against these athletes.”

Braceras, the director of the Independent Women’s Law Center, spoke on the impact of transgender athletes on women’s sports on Monday night at an event hosted by the Network of enlightened Women (NeW)—a politically conservative women’s organization at Boston College. 

Braceras, who formerly taught courses on civil rights and constitutional law at BC Law, said her talk was originally titled “Sex is Better Than Gender: Title IX, Male-Bodied Athletes, and the Growing Threat to Women’s Sports.” But NeW, she said, had to cut the beginning of the title. 

“Apparently the BC administration thought the words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ were too inflammatory to include on posters,” Braceras said. “I think that’s a little odd because I bet that they use the words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ on a lot of left-wing posters.”

“Sex” and “gender” need to be defined precicely, Braceras said, particularly in the area of anti-discrimination law. Braceras said sex relates to dividing humans into two categories—male and female—on the basis of their reproductive functions. She defined gender, however, as societal expectations placed on each sex. 

“It’s become a source of confusion, I think over the past decade or more, and it’s part of that confusion I think that’s led us to the current threat to women’s sports,” Braceras said.

According to Braceras, “sex segregation” is important in competitive sports because it is the only way to achieve equality.

“If you didn’t have single-sex sports … women would not be able to compete,” she said. “Only the most elite women would find opportunities to compete in sports, and the reason for that is the average male is bigger, faster, and stronger than the average woman. That is not a sexist thing to say. That is a fact.” 

Braceras specifically spoke about Lia Thomas—a transgender athlete who shattered women’s records in swimming at the University of Pennsylvania. Braceras argued it was not fair for Thomas to compete against other female swimmers.

“In the name of inclusion, they told female Ivy League swimmers and NCAA swimmers to step aside and make room for Lia not only on the podium, but in the locker room where they are forced to undress next to an intact male,” she said. 

Braceras also discussed the Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which prohibited employers from discriminating against employees because they are gay or transgender. 

“One of the biggest problems with the decision was not necessarily the holding but the reasoning of the decision,” she said.

Braceras said the court’s ruling defined Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits workplace discrimintion “on the basis of sex” in relation to gender—declaring policies that take sex into consideration as discrimination in violation of federal law. Braceras argued that lower courts could use this precedent to require the inclusion of men on women’s teams.

Even a small number of transgender women competing in women’s sports can have a devastating impact, according to Braceras, putting female althetes at a disadvantage.

“Allowing biological males to compete as athletes on women’s teams with limited roster spots means fewer spots on the team for females, less playing time, and potentially less scholarship money,” Braceras said. 

Women who support single-sex sport competitions, however, are not able to “speak out” against the inclusion of transgender athletes on their teams, according to Braceras.  

“Women and girls who do not consent to these practices are being threatened, coerced, and shamed into silence and submission,” she said.

Braceras also spoke about Iszac Henig—a male transgender athlete who remained on Yale’s women’s swimming and diving team. 

Henig defeated Thomas in the women’s 100-yard freestyle race in January, but Braceras said he should not have competed on the women’s teams at all.

“I think that all of them—Lia Thomas, Schuyler Bailar, and Iszac Henig—should have been swimming in the men’s division,” she said. “The men’s division should basically be an open sport. It should be for everybody.” 

Braceras concluded the talk by arguing that prohibiting transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports is the best way to protect female athletes.

“Unfortunately, today single-sex sport and the opportunities that it creates for women and particularly elite female athletes is under attack,” she said. “It’s been threatened by transgender athletes seeking to compete at the highest level of women’s competition.”

During a Q&A session following her talk, Braceras said it should be illegal for transgender women to compete on women’s sports teams.

“I do think a good compromise could be a law that says no one who’s born male … can compete in elite women’s sports,” she said.

May 4, 2022