The battle over whether schools must allow student athletes who were born male to compete on women’s sports teams seems destined to be resolved in court. At issue are two conflicting interpretations of Title IX, the landmark sex equality law that governs education, including school athletics.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 states:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

Supporters of trans-inclusion in women’s sports, including the ACLU and the Biden administration, argue that the statute’s prohibition of discrimination “on the basis of sex” includes discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The ACLU has filed several lawsuits around the country challenging state laws that restrict girls’ sports to females. At least two federal district courts, one in Idaho and one in West Virginia, have indicated that they agree with this interpretation of Title IX and have issued rulings temporarily enjoining single-sex sports laws in these states from taking effect.

But in late August, 20 Republican state attorneys general filed a lawsuit of their own, challenging the Biden administration’s mandate that schools allow students to compete on teams consistent with their gender identities. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, seeks (among other things) a declaration that the 1972 statute addresses only discrimination on the basis of biological sex, not discrimination on the basis of gender identity, as well as a ruling that states may determine eligibility for single-sex sports teams on the basis of biology. 

Ultimately, the issue is likely to result in a split among the appellate courts resolvable only by the United States Supreme Court. 

To learn more about the law governing women’s sports, download our groundbreaking new report, Competition: Title IX, Male-Bodied Athletes, and the Threat to Women’s Sports.