From student sports to the Olympics, female athletes have Title IX to thank for the opportunity—and so much more

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by Kate Snyder

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America’s winning female athletes have turned in historic performances at the 2016 World Olympics. Simone Biles has been called the best female gymnast ever. Katie Ledecky dominated the field and smashed her own world record, and Allyson Felix is now the most decorated U.S. woman in Olympic track and field history. These three titans belong to the largest contingent of female athletes (292) any nation has ever sent to the Olympic games, and they all have Title IX to thank for the opportunity to compete at this level.

NEA member Diane Schneider reflects on a time before female athletes had this opportunity:

I just missed being covered by Title IX, so I lived in a time when there were no scholarships for women who played any sport. Our college basketball practice couldn’t start until 8:00 p.m., after the boys were finished; we didn’t have a trainer; and we had to wear skirts as part of our uniforms. The perception was, if you were a woman and a jock, you were just out of place.

It has taken 40 plus years, but Title IX has changed the way women and girls see themselves and how the world views them.

While Title IX is most well-known for the benefits and protections it has offered women in sports, it is not just about sports or just about women.

Title IX is a prohibition against sex-based discrimination in education, including bias against pregnant and parenting students and women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs. The law protects any student—female, male, and gender-non-conforming—from sex-based discrimination, harassment, or violence, and has been the vehicle for investigating the mishandling of sexual assault cases on college campuses.

NEA members on the frontlines as advocates for students are working with school boards, school districts, and state legislators to enforce Title IX, reinforce it with state and local policies, and make sure its protections are understood. “Title IX is about protecting all students from discrimination, including transgender youth,” says Schneider.

In May the Obama Administration sent a letter to the nation’s school districts clarifying existing Title IX law and affirming the civil rights of transgender Americans. The letter said transgender students cannot be discriminated against because they are transgender, and they must be allowed to use the bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

While some individuals and states have brought lawsuits against the federal government in an effort to keep or put discriminatory policies targeted at transgender students in place, 18 other states, most recently Massachusetts, have passed a variety of legal protections for transgender people.

“My hope is that it won’t take 40 more years for people to get over their fears and lack of understanding concerning the transgender and intersexual students who are an integral part of our population,” says Schneider. “We’ll be in a much better place when we get rid of discrimination in all forms.”

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