Alaska board of education votes to ban transgender females from competing on high school girls teams

FILE - Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to reporters during a news conference at the state...
FILE - Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to reporters during a news conference at the state Capitol, April 28, 2022, in Juneau, Alaska. The Alaska state board of education on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023, voted to support banning transgender girls from competing on high school girls athletic teams, sending the issue to the attorney general. Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who appointed the members of the state education board, has said the regulation is needed to ensure fairness in girls sports.(AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)
Published: Sep. 1, 2023 at 1:35 AM CDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU/Gray News) - The Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development has voted to pass a controversial resolution that prohibits transgender female athletes from competing in girls’ division sports at the middle and high school levels.

The resolution passed Thursday afternoon in a unanimous 7-0 vote, with student advisor Felix Meyers symbolically voting no and military advisor Lt. Col. James Fowley abstaining.

During the 90-minute discussion that preceded the vote, board members discussed the reasons behind the proposed change, such as the science between men and women and its correlation to safety in girls’ athletics.

Resolution 02-2023 — titled Preserving the Opportunity for Athletes — would change state regulations to “provide a girls’ division with participation based on a student’s sex at birth” and “provide a division for students who identify with either sex or gender” for school districts that join the Alaska State Activities Association, or ASAA.

“A transgendered female would now be playing in the non-limited division,” Billy Strickland, executive director of ASAA, said during the meeting.

Since its adoption by the board in March, the resolution has left parents, educators and the community as a whole divided. Thursday’s decision sparked mixed responses from both public and private sectors.

One of the resolution’s strongest critics is the ACLU of Alaska, whose advocacy director Michael Garvey spoke in opposition during the public comment period at a quarterly board meeting earlier this year. Garvey maintains that banning transgender female athletes from competing in girls’ division sports is unconstitutional and that the board lacked guidance on how the new policy would be implemented.

“That’s unacceptable levels of vagueness when the government decides to discriminate,” Garvey said. “When the government decides to discriminate against any group of people, they must clear a really high bar for justifying that and they haven’t here.”

The Anchorage School District also opposed the decision in a written statement Thursday afternoon, stating that there is not enough data to indicate that this has even been an issue in the past and questioning the board’s priorities.

“Regardless of today’s decision, ASD will continue to provide a safe and welcoming school environment for all students,” the joint statement from Anchorage school board president Margo Bellamy and superintendent Jharrett Bryantt read. “We will continue to ensure an inclusive, nurturing, and respectful school experience for our diverse community.”

Anchorage Assembly members Christopher Constant and Felix Rivera agreed with the district and called it “a sad day for Alaskans” in a written statement issued Thursday evening.

“The decision to discriminate may have direct local implications. In May, we sent a letter to the Alaska School Activities Association (ASAA) Board of Directors, warning that the adoption of the discriminatory policy would open serious legal liability and put the Anchorage School District (ASD) participation in all ASAA sanctioned sport activities in jeopardy. We are actively seeking legal advice on this critical issue,” the statement read. “We condemn the decision by the Alaska Board of Education and implore ASAA to adopt inclusive policies that empower transgender athletes to play.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy voiced his support of the board’s decision on social media following the vote.

“Thank you to the State Board of Education for acting to protect the opportunity for girls to participate in high school sports in a division that is safe, fair, and competitive,” his statement read. “The board received well over 1,300 public comments, and I appreciate board members taking the time to get this regulation right.”

The ACLU said in an interview Thursday afternoon that it will continue to advocate for trans rights.