More than 540 student-athletes across the country signed a letter calling on the NCAA to stop hosting championships in states that prevent transgender athletes from competing in college sports. The letter, addressed to NCAA President Mark Emmerts, follows proposals in over 20 states that target trans athletes.
Across 80 universities, the 545 students come from diverse athletic backgrounds, including basketball, rowing, track and field, diving, swimming and gymnastics. The students believe that the NCAA's decision to accept championship bids from states with potential bans goes directly against the organization's anti-discrimination policy.
Aliya Schenck and Alana Bojar, track and field athletes from Washington University in St. Louis, first started the letter. Bojar, 21, says the NCAA has the power to affect change and has the responsibility to stand up for both current and future trans athletes.
"We're standing with trans athletes," Schenck, 20, told CBS News. "The big goal is to really make change within the NCAA, but if we can be allies to the trans community and help fight back against this legislation in any way possible, then we're doing our part."
The NCAA has relocated championship events over violations of its discrimination policy in the past. In 2016, the NCAAfrom North Carolina over a law preventing transgender students from using the restroom of their choice.
Lawmakers in over 20 states have introduced legislation targeting transgender athletes. Mississippi's governor signed a bill Thursday that prevents trans athletes from competing on women's or girl's sports teams. Last year, Idaho passed a similar ban, which was in federal court.
"This is another attempt to strip trans folks in this country of their fundamental human rights to exist and to play on a sports team as kids," said Anne Lieberman, the director of policy and programs at Athlete Ally. "As folks who work in sports and are committed to social justice, (we) have to figure out a way that everyone can be included. And that means making sure that the people who are most impacted by these policies, by these conversations, have an actual seat at the table when these discussions are taking place."
Lieberman argued that not only are the laws against transgender athletes exclusionary, but their consequences can be life-threatening. Many of the proposals would require students to prove their assigned gender. Research shows that ostracizing children for their gender identity leads to increased self-harm and suicide rates, something sports can combat, said Lieberman.
"All athletes deserve to compete," the letter reads. "All athletes are worthy of protection. No athlete should feel unsafe being who they are."
Schenck and Bojar hope the letter will force the NCAA to take action but vowed to continue raising awareness about these bills regardless of the outcome.
"Sports have always been my constant," Bojar said. "Even now in the pandemic, going to practice is one of my only constants. It's where I get to interact with people, it's where I get to release my stress. And to know that is being denied to people, I mean, who wouldn't get angry about that?