The governing body for Texas high school sports decided Monday to ask superintendents to determine whether to formalize a policy that uses student-athletes' birth certificates to determine their gender.
Such a policy already is informally used by the body, the University Interscholastic League, or UIL, whose 32-member legislative council on Monday passed on an opportunity to vote on the proposed rule. Instead, the council decided to send it to the superintendents of member districts — with a recommendation that they approve it.
Critics say the policy effectively bars transgender students from playing sports.
The move comes amid increased focus nationwide on transgender issues. In Texas, residents of the state's largest city are preparing to vote Nov. 3 on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which would ban discrimination based on characteristics including gender identity, sexual orientation, sex, race, color, age, pregnancy and religion.
The UIL's "Non-Discrimination Policy" already bans member schools from denying students a chance to play on sports teams because of their disability, race, color, gender, religion or national origin.
The proposed addition to that policy says: "Gender shall be determined based on a student's birth certificate. In cases where a student's birth certificate is unavailable, other similar government documents used for the purpose of identification may be submitted."
If approved by a majority of superintendents — and the state education commissioner — it would take effect Aug. 1, 2016.
The proposed policy was among dozens of rule changes the council considered during its annual meeting that spanned Sunday and Monday.
"Using a student's birth certificate to determine gender has been procedure," UIL spokeswoman Kate Hector said, meaning the rule change would serve as a codification of that informal procedure.
Council members were unavailable to comment on the rule change Monday afternoon because they were traveling back to their home school districts, she said.
If approved, the rule would go against a national trend of recent years. More than a dozen states have adopted policies that allow transgender student-athletes to participate in sports based on their gender identity.
The District of Columbia and 15 states, including Florida, have adopted such policies as a way to encourage participation in sports, said Asaf Orr, staff attorney for the Transgender Youth Project at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. He noted that the National Collegiate Athletic Association has adopted a similar policy.
The birth certificate rule Texas officials are considering "absolutely bars trans kids from playing sports," Orr said.
Changing the gender on a birth certificate is not realistic for many kids because it requires having sex reassignment surgery, Orr said.
Orr said the concern that transgender girls will be far better players than those who were born female has not panned out in states that have adopted policies that allow transgender student-athletes to participate based on gender identity.
"We are not getting these hulking guys claiming to be girls dominating sports," Orr said. "If we do see strong transgender athletes, it’s because they're superstar athletes; It's not because they're transgender."