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Sununu joins GOP governors to oppose Biden proposed rules on transgender athletes

Advocates for transgender rights demonstrate outside of New Hampshire's legislative office building ahead of a hearing on HB-198
Mara Hoplamazian
NHPR File Photo
Advocates for transgender rights demonstrate outside of New Hampshire's legislative office building ahead of a 2021 hearing on a bill that would have allowed discrimination against transgender athletes in public schools. That bill did not pass.

Gov. Chris Sununu has joined 24 other Republican governors in signing a letter criticizing the Biden Administration’s plans to bar schools from categorically blocking transgender students from joining sports teams that align with their gender identity.

The Biden proposal, released last month, would change federal Title IX rules that outlaw sex-based discrimination in federally funded education programs.

According to the Republican governors, the proposed rules would effectively block states from enforcing “duly-enacted statutes protecting fairness in women’s and girls’ sports.” In a separate statement, Sununu cited concerns about "local control."

“I believe in local control on these matters, and the Biden Administration's proposed rule could potentially deny funding to some schools if they have policies that conflict with Washington's proposed rule change," Sununu said. "The best solutions are at the local level, ultimately up to each school and league — not a one-size-fits-all approach out of Washington."

But according to a U.S. Department of Education fact sheet, the proposed rules are far from absolute when it comes to guaranteeing transgender athletes the right to compete with athletes who share their gender identity.

The department advises that in some cases, “particularly in competitive high school and college athletic environments,” schools can limit transgender students’ participation in some sports.

This provision sparked criticism for the proposal from some, including several New Hampshire lawmakers, who said it left the door open to discrimination against transgender and nonbinary students.

What these rules could mean for New Hampshire isn’t clear.

About 20 states have enacted laws banning transgender athletes from competing alongside athletes who share their gender identity, rather than their assigned sex at birth; New Hampshire isn't one of them.

Such bans have been debated at the State House, but Republican-led efforts to impose these restrictions have stalled.

The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association, which governs local high school sports in the state, meanwhile permits transgender athletes to compete. Doing otherwise would be “fundamentally unjust and contrary to state and federal law, ” NHIAA policy states.

NHIAA policy requires individual schools to determine that “the expression of the student’s gender identity is bona fide and not for the purposes of gaining an unfair advantage.”

The group’s guidance also restricts student athletes from trying out simultaneously for NHIAA sports teams of both genders. It also bars students from “transferring from one gender specific team to a team of a different gender during a sports season."

Sununu has been largely quiet as debates over transgender rights have flared up in state capitals across the country, with Republicans largely calling for stricter limits on the rights of transgender individuals. His decision to join the other Republican governors in signing the letter opposing the Biden Administration policy comes as he has been exploring a possible run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott was the only Republican governor in the country not to sign the letter.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
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