Fall sports and athletic competitions are in full swing in schools across the country. But student-athletes and parents alike worry about the prospect of biological men competing against women, which is indeed a direct attack on fair competition and safety for women and girls.

Across the country, and here in New Mexico, concerns are mounting especially in the wake of stories like that of Payton McNabb, a North Carolina volleyball player who suffers permanent injuries from being knocked unconscious by a biological male during a volleyball match. Voices to save women’s sports grow louder.

From swimming to cycling to track and field, female sports as we know it are under siege. Biologically male athletes who identify as females are taking victories from deserving women in female sports — while some governing bodies of these championships ignore the science.

In fact, just this year, New Mexican legislators, with full support by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, voted to deny biology and gut protections for women. The ineptly-named Human Rights Modernization Act modified state law to include “gender” and “gender identity” as protected classes.

As a result, when gender and gender identity become the legal standard, in place of biological sex, any man who claims to identify as a woman can opt into spaces and programs meant for women, from women’s prisons, to scholarship programs, to athletic teams. This law unravels decades of hard-fought women’s rights and gives way for sex discrimination.

Think about what this means for female athletes. A report recently issued by Independent Women’s Forum and Independent Women’s Law Center compiles numerous scientific studies showing that females have little chance of winning against male competitors. According to the report, the largest performance gap is seen in the area of strength, noting that “males are able to lift 30% more than females of equivalent stature and mass.” Post-pubescent males can jump 25% higher than females, throw 25% further than females, run 11% faster than females, and accelerate 20% faster than females. These percentages contribute to significant gaps, ranging from 10% to 50%, in specific athletic activities, such as rowing, serving a tennis ball, and driving a golf ball.

Significantly, it is not just that male bodies have athletic advantages over female bodies; female bodies also have significant athletic disadvantages that biological males cannot create for themselves. For example, the female pelvis has less joint rotation than the male pelvis, making females slower than biological males. Menstrual cycles and potential pregnancies, factors that cannot affect biological males, may also impact training and performance in females. For these and other reasons, even biological males who never experience male puberty are likely to have an athletic advantage over females.

In fact, estrogen therapy in biological males does not eliminate the male athletic advantage, in part, because it does not alter wingspan, bone geometry, and skeletal architecture generally. And, while years of testosterone suppression will reduce a male athlete’s strength, it does not reduce it to normal female levels.

Significantly, the IWF’s “Competition” report notes that “(e)ven if a biological male could reduce his strength to close to female levels for a period of time, that athlete may have different muscle responses to training than biological females with the same testosterone levels, meaning that he would regain his male athletic advantage while training to compete.”

It’s astonishing that, more than 50 years since Title IX passed in 1972, women are once again fighting for fairness and equal opportunity, and are now having to explain and reclaim what it means to be a woman. And, of course, sports is just one arena in which women’s opportunities are being gutted by the elimination of single-sex spaces.

Women’s right to safety and privacy are also being compromised in prisons, locker rooms, bathrooms, and domestic violence shelters.

This new form of discrimination against women must stop. We have an obligation to continue to stand up for our right to keep women’s sports female and protect women’s spaces.

The good news is that this process is already underway. Thousands are already joining in support of women by signing a petition. Additionally, a coalition of organizations is fighting to repeal N.M.’s Human Rights act through the state’s referendum process. To qualify for the 2024 ballot, tens of thousands of qualifying signatures need to be accepted by the Secretary of State’s Office. You can view signing locations in every New Mexico county by visiting Better Together’s Referendum Project.

Women fought too long and too hard to give up their rights now.