NENSA Policy for Transgender Participants
November 13, 2023
Formed in the fall of 2022, NENSA’s Transgender Policy Committee includes the head of each NENSA development committee. The group was charged with developing a policy covering participation of transgender athletes in NENSA events. Committee members researched the subject and reported back during our meetings. This included, but was not limited to: reviewing policies of various athletic governing bodies both outside and within the sport of cross-country skiing, examining a wide range of scientific literature about the physical capabilities of transitioned athletes, researching relevant local policies and practices (eg. state ski organizations, state athletic oversight organizations, principal’s organizations, etc.), and interviewing a number of representatives of all of our constituencies including skiers across various age groups, coaches, transgender athletes, and parents/caregivers.
We recognize that for some, this topic evokes passionate responses. Two strong viewpoints that come up include the feeling that women’s sports may be threatened, with another strong view asserting that a person’s gender identification should be honored and respected. Passions for the former stance are fueled by the long fight in support of women’s athletics in the early era of Title IX, and the latter stance is fueled by historic and contemporary marginalization and oppression of the LGBTQ community. The two stances often are characterized as a conflict between fairness and inclusion. Additionally, we heard from some masters cisgender women (see definition of terms below) that they enjoyed the camaraderie and connection forged by skiing / competing with other cisgender women who they perceived as sharing similar life experiences. Conversely, we heard from transgender athletes a very strong, authentic and natural desire to be able to be fully themselves while participating in sport. Given these differences, we felt it very important to hear from all sides of the issue and carefully consider all viewpoints.
Though there is general agreement that on average most people assigned male at birth have a physical advantage over cisgender women, we feel that the scientific data is not totally conclusive about whether these advantages can be mitigated by certain forms of medical transition such as hormone replacement therapy and/or puberty blockers. Disagreeing sides point to numerous studies that justify their own position. Experts working on these questions acknowledge sample sizes for studies are relatively small so far. More research is needed. We are also aware that competitive advantage can be attributed to many factors other than physical characteristics. Finally, we acknowledge that access to gender affirming medical care is a privilege not everyone has access to, and that medical transition is not part of every transgender person’s gender affirming journey.
One of the most common suggestions we heard (and have seen implemented in some sports) is to modify existing categories. These ideas include replacing the former category “Male” with an “Open” category, along with the traditional “Women” category, or creating a separate third “Open” category along with the other two traditional categories. While on the surface this may appear a legitimate course of action, we feel it does not address the fundamental issue of identity: many if not most transgender athletes sincerely identify themselves as “female” or “male”. To insist on their participation in an “Open” category is to deny that identity. However, we are supportive of a “Nonbinary” category being offered in some circumstances, not in order to segregate transgender athletes from others but to allow a third category for those athletes who do not identify solely as either male or female.
Given the considerations listed above, the Transgender Policy committee firmly believes we best serve NENSA’s mission, vision, purpose, and values by adopting a welcoming stance to all participants while honoring and respecting their personal gender identity in the same way we honor and respect their other personal attributes. NENSA is committed to nurturing a culture of inclusion, tolerance, and respect and ensuring that the ski community is a welcoming and affirming place for all. When we achieve these ideals, our community grows more vibrant, empowered, and successful. We strive to embrace diversity in all of its forms: identity, race, culture, background, experience, status, ability, and opinion. We believe the following policy is totally consistent with our mission and values and our commitment to diversity.
We do recognize that in pursuing one of its purposes in “[bringing] cross-country skiers to their highest potential at regional, national, and international events,” NENSA runs qualifying events to access higher levels of competition (e.g. Eastern Cup races serving as a gateway to Junior Nationals). These sanctioned races may require NENSA to follow different rules regarding transgender participation. Even at races governed by other sanctioning bodies (ie. USSS or FIS), we are committed to welcoming all athletes. In favor of this, we have built into our policy examples of creative ways to continue to strive for inclusion that best suits transgender athletes’ needs, in line with NENSA’s transgender athlete inclusion policy for races where NENSA’s policy may be superseded.
We expect there will be sincere, well-intentioned, and thoughtful disagreement with this policy. However, we are convinced that it is the right thing to do in fulfilling our vision of “[being} a vibrant … organization that inspires lifelong learning, development and community-building through the sport of cross-country skiing.”
NENSA Transgender Policy Committee:
Damian Bolduc (he/him) | Masters Committee Chair
Cate Brams | (Former) EMXC Coach (left committee after moving to Colorado)
Kate Koch (she/her) | NENSA Board; BKL Chair
Heidi Lange (she/her) | NENSA Executive Director
Scott McGovern (he/him) | (Former) NH high school coach; educator
Kait Miller (they/them) | (Former) NENSA Youth & Introductory Program Director
Katharine Ogden | NENSA Board
Adam Terko (he/him) | NENSA Athlete Development Committee Chair
Ian Tovell (he/him) | NENSA Board; Junior Development Committee Chair
NENSA Policy on Transgender Athlete Participation
Athletes in all NENSA-sponsored events may participate in the gender category with which they identify. (See exception noted below.)
1) Gender identification should be consistently and reasonably demonstrated in other pertinent and visible areas of the athlete’s life (confidentiality permitting), and throughout the competitive season. If an athlete transitions mid-season, they shall be allowed to race in the new category with which they identify as long as this remains consistent through the rest of the season and that this mid-season change does not violate rules of other organizations who share oversight of the event(s).
2) In events where NENSA is a partner but not the organizing sponsor, event organizers will be encouraged to follow NENSA’s policy.
3) NENSA and event organizers partnering with NENSA are encouraged to offer the option of a “Nonbinary” category. Transgender athletes are NOT required to register in this category; there is overlap but not equivalency between transgender and nonbinary categories. In cases where athletes are reluctant to choose between male and female categories but who wish to compete in the larger male or female fields instead of a nonbinary category (which may not be scored / ranked), they are encouraged to register under the gender with which they most strongly identify.
4) In those sanctioned events (e.g. Eastern Cups) where NENSA is contractually obligated by a separate governing authority to adhere to different rules of participation, those rules shall be followed.
- a) NENSA shall structure these races to best welcome, support and encourage participation of all competitors while still adhering to these rules. Depending on the sanctioning body’s rules, this may include but is not limited to:
- i) Establishing categories (Such as “Open”) that mirror and are equivalent to similar categories permitted by the sanctioning governing bodies.
- ii) Allowing racers to compete in the category of the gender assigned at birth, if this is permitted by the sanctioning organization. Note that this is an exception to the consistency policy in (1) above.
- iii) Creating non-sanctioned waves (e.g. Z waves) in a race where participation rules preclude a racer from competing in a particular category.
- iv) If permitted, tabulating two sets of results: one for the overall race results and another with transgender competitors’ results removed for selecting athletes to move on to higher levels of competition taking place under different rules, if the transgender athletes would be ineligible for such competition.
- b) NENSA shall make reasonable efforts to alert athletes to participation rules at the various levels of racing, but it shall ultimately be the athletes’ responsibility to understand these rules. Transgender athletes shall be encouraged to reach out to NENSA’s Competitive Program Director if they have concerns about participating under the different rules.
- c) In the event that the 2023-2024 competition season begins without clarity on FIS and USSS rules on participation by transgender athletes, NENSA will adhere to its overall policy as stated at the beginning. If different rules are announced mid-season, NENSA will re-calculate standings as necessary to adhere to the new regulations.
5) This policy will be subservient to relevant local, state, or federal laws running contrary to these terms.
6) This policy shall be in effect for the 2023-2024 ski season and shall be reviewed both on an ongoing basis and at the end of the season by NENSA’s Transgender Policy Committee. Race organizers, coaches, and other interested parties are encouraged to share thoughts, ideas, and concerns with our committee at any time.
1. We encourage the NENSA board to revisit its DEI anti-discrimination policy to place greater emphasis on the primary group whom we serve: the skiers. Although its current wording includes participants, it comes across as more internally focused on the workplace.
2. We welcome and encourage concrete, unbiased data from reliable sources, including coaches and race organizers, who have experience including transgender athletes in their programs, in order to continue developing the best possible policy for our skiers. This may include the number of transgender athletes participating in events, as well as race results, being mindful to keep participants anonymous, if necessary.
3. As we move forward and begin to monitor the implementation of this policy, we will strive to continue to have our committee’s membership reflect as broad a perspective as possible.
Supporting NENSA statements and policies
To share the joy of gliding on snow through educational, recreational, introductory and competitive programs to nurture and sustain an active cross-country ski community for all ages and levels throughout the East.
To be a vibrant cross country skiing organization that inspires and empowers lifelong learning, development and community-building through the sport of cross-country skiing.
The New England Nordic Ski Association (NENSA) is the umbrella organization for Nordic skiing events in the region. We are a member-supported service organization that promotes the culture of cross-country skiing by creating opportunities for youth, athletes, coaches, officials and skiers of all levels. NENSA provides the support structure necessary to bring cross-country skiers to their highest potential at regional, national and international events.
BKL/Youth Gender Policy:
All BKL athletes are welcome to participate in the gender category in which they identify without restriction.
Definition of Terms
Sex: The classification of people as male, female or intersex. Sex is usually assigned at birth and is based on an assessment of a person’s reproductive system, hormones, chromosomes and other physical characteristics.
Gender: The complex relationship between physical traits and one’s internal sense of self as male, female, both or neither as well as one’s outward presentations and behaviors related to that perception.
Gender identity: Each person’s internal and individual experience of gender. It is a person’s sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither or anywhere along the gender spectrum. A person’s gender identity may be the same as or different from their birth-assigned sex.
Gender binary: A social system whereby people are thought to have either one of two genders: man or woman.
Cisgender (cis): People whose gender identity is in line with or “matches” the sex they were assigned at birth.
Transgender (trans): People whose gender identity is different from the gender associated with their birth-assigned sex.
Nonbinary: People who do not identify within the sex/gender binary as either male or female, man or woman.
All definitions are from the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport’s “Creating Inclusive Environments for Trans Participants in Canadian Sport.”