NAIA Bans Transgender Athlete Participation In Women’s Sports Following Unanimous Vote

Opponents of the new policy will be hoping to enact Title IX laws, however, with the association being composed primarily of private schools, it may not be so simple.


The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), the governing body for 241 smaller American colleges and two Canadian colleges and universities, has recently released a policy that significantly limits the participation of transgender athletes in women’s sports.

The policy is the first of its kind in college sports and was approved in a unanimous vote by the NAIA Council of Presidents, the governing body of the collegiate league.

The NAIA has men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field championships, which will take place in late May in Indiana. Unlike the larger National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the NAIA also holds a road marathon team challenge. Last year’s event took place during the California International Marathon.

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As stated in the NAIA’s new transgender participation policy, all athletes are still permitted to compete in male divisions. However, participation in women’s sports is restricted to athletes who were assigned female at birth and who have not undergone hormone therapy.

Athletes undergoing hormone therapy may partake in various activities such as workouts and practices, but are ineligible for competitions. (Although, the NAIA has made an exception for competitive cheer and dance programs, which remain open to all students.)

NAIA President and CEO Jim Carr acknowledges potential controversy but says the decision’s foundation is ensuring fair competition among member schools.

“We know there are a lot of opinions and a lot of people have a very emotional reaction to this, and we want to be respectful of all that,” Carr told the Associated Press. “But we feel like our primary responsibility is fairness in competition, so we are following that path. And we’ve tried as best we could to allow for some participation by all.”

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The NAIA’s policy for the 2023-24 season allowed transgender athletes to compete according to their identified division during the regular season. However, for postseason competition, athletes were required to compete in the division aligned with their biological sex assigned at birth.

Shiwali Patel, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, strongly criticized the NAIA’s policy, labeling it as discriminatory and detrimental to athletes’ potential.

“This is unacceptable and blatant discrimination that not only harms trans, nonbinary, and intersex individuals but limits the potential of all athletes,” Patel told the AP. “It’s important to recognize that these discriminatory policies don’t enhance fairness in competition. Instead, they send a message of exclusion and reinforce dangerous stereotypes that harm all women,” Patel said of the new policy.

In a separate yet closely related development, a federal lawsuit was filed against the NCAA by current and former college athletes, challenging the organization’s stance on transgender athlete inclusion in women’s sports.

Legal challenges are expected against the NAIA policy, potentially invoking Title IX laws.

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Title IX legislation is a series of federal civil rights laws that prohibit sex-based discrimination in any school’s education program, services, or activities if that school receives funding from the federal government. There are roughly 6,000 publicly funded universities and colleges that fall under Title XI legislation, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Legislation gets murky with private schools, most of which do not receive any funding from the government. 190 of the 241 NAIA schools are private and aren’t subject to Title IX laws. 

Additionally, about 125 of these smaller private schools have religious affiliations, with 17 of the 20 presidents who voted on the new NAIA policy from schools affiliated with Christian denominations.

“People have certain views of the world, and even though I believe all our Council of Presidents members are trying to think what’s best for the NAIA, they certainly come to these kinds of issues with their own beliefs and the missions of their institutions in mind,” Carr said. “I would think that had some impact.”

“It emphasizes the urgency in having clear Title IX rules that expressly prohibit this type of sex-based discrimination and ensure the rights of all students, including transgender, nonbinary, and intersex athletes, are safeguarded. Trans athletes deserve a chance to play,” Patel said against the new NAIA policy.

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You can read the full NAIA policy below:

Student-athletes may participate in NAIA competition in accordance with the following conditions:

A. Participation by students in sports designated as male by the NAIA:
All eligible NAIA student-athletes may participate in NAIA-sponsored male sports.

B. Participation by students in sports designated as female by the NAIA:
Only NAIA student-athletes whose biological sex is female may participate in NAIA-sponsored female sports. They may participate under the following conditions:

  • A student who has not begun any masculinizing hormone therapy may participate without limitation.
  • A student who has begun masculinizing hormone therapy may participate in:

    a. All activities that are internal to the institution (does not include external competition), including workouts, practices, and team activities. Such participation is at the discretion of the NAIA member institution where the student is enrolled; and

    b. External competition that is not a countable contest as defined by the NAIA (per NAC Policy Article XXV, Section A, Item 12). Such participation is at the discretion of the NAIA member institution where the student is enrolled.

An NAIA institution that has a student-athlete who has begun masculinizing hormone therapy must notify the NAIA national office. The national office will take the necessary steps to provide appropriate privacy protections.

This policy will be subject to review in light of any legal, scientific, or medical developments.

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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