First trans member of Delaware’s body governing high school sports says state needs to improve and standardize policies for trans athletes

Kathy Carpenter was a prolific athlete in high school and college. Now she’s fighting for better treatment of transgender youth in sports.

The acronym DIAA and text underneath that reads Education through Athletics

(Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Assocation/Facebook)

Kathy Carpenter is the first transgender person to serve on a committee in Delaware’s K-12 sports governing body, the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association. Carpenter outlined an ambitious plan to “level the playing field” for trans athletes. As part of the rules and regulations committee, she will work on policies recommended to the board of DIAA.

Carpenter’s first goal is to have consistency across schools for how trans students are treated. Carpenter cites the failure of a state-wide nondiscrimination policy created by Governor Carney in 2017 as one of the reasons she joined the committee.

Republican lawmakers have repeatedly introduced legislation that would ban trans women from participating in sports since 2017, but those efforts have been unsuccessful.

Though a state-wide nondiscrimination policy has yet to be created, both Christiana School District and Red Clay Consolidated District have enacted nondiscrimination policies for transgender students. Carpenter said she’d like to see other districts adopt similar policies.

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“I’m getting frustrated at the school level with Cape Henlopen, Indian River, the other area schools that are unwilling to create transgender policy, either for athletics or for any other reason,” she said.

Carpenter hopes DIAA will be able to create policies that would standardize trans athletes’ experiences across the state.

DIAA’s current policies only outline transition requirements for athletes to participate in sports. District policies determine many aspects of a trans student’s experience in athletics.

“It depends on what school you go into in Delaware as to how you’re gonna be treated if you’re a transgender person, especially when it comes to locker room use and bathroom use and things like that,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter also hopes to make athletics more accessible to trans athletes regardless of their ability to legally or medically transition.

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DIAA’s current policy requires student athletes to either change their name and legal marker or medically transition before they can play on teams that align with their gender identity. The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network has categorized that policy as “discriminatory,” and recommends that students be able to participate in teams that reflect their gender identity regardless of what legal records show.

In 2021, DIAA solicited applications for a Transgender Policy subcommittee which was tasked with proposing changes to policies that affect trans student athletes. It is unclear whether the subcommittee has been formed at this time. DIAA did not return requests for comment from WHYY News.

Carpenter was a prolific athlete throughout high school and college, competing in five sports in high school and becoming captain of the wrestling team at Delaware State University. She now runs TransLiance, an organization that helps LGBTQ people connect socially, and is involved in activism throughout the state. The policies she is championing come both from personal experience and the stories she’s heard from trans youth.

“I hear about the horror stories that some people have — not only in general in school, but specifically with athletics,” she said. “Our current policies in Delaware sports are really kind of barbaric.”

The committee meets throughout the year to discuss policy changes.

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