Wyoming’s top public school official is willing to risk millions of dollars in federal education funding by joining a crusade against transgender students.


Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder described herself as a “champion” of safe and fair athletic competition in explaining her support for Wyoming’s new blanket ban on transgender students competing in girls sports. In reality, she supports a measure that strips in-the-know front-line educators of the discretion they need to actually protect kids in exceedingly rare and nuanced circumstances. It’s a position that hurts kids — both cis- and transgender — but scores political points with the anti-liberal extremists that increasingly dominate Republican politics. 

Last week, Degenfelder co-signed a letter written by Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. protesting proposed federal rules that would put states like Wyoming in violation of Title IX for blanket bans on transgender athletes. Sent to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, the letter was also signed by Arkansas and North Carolina education officials.

The hyperbolic letter claims if President Joe Biden’s proposed Department of Education rulemaking on the issue is adopted, it will “erase years of hard-fought opportunities for women in athletics.”

Before Gov. Mark Gordon allowed the Legislature’s ban on trans athletes to become law without his signature in March, he said Wyoming has only four transgender students affected by the new law. Four! The state has about 91,000 K-12 students.

Gordon called the new law “draconian” and “discriminatory.” I wish he’d convinced Degenfelder and lawmakers to reach the same conclusion. Failing that, I wish he’d had the courage to act on his convictions and veto the measure.

Defying the Civil Rights Act’s Title IX protection of women should come at a significant cost. In addition to potentially losing federal funds — which annually provide up to one-quarter of the money for Wyoming’s K-12 school system — the state will also have to defend its anti-trans position for middle- and- high school sports in court. It will be expensive.

The law’s sponsor Sen. Wendy Schuler (R-Evanston), like Degenfelder, is a former coach who seems to think Title IX exclusively addresses women’s sports. Actually, it’s an inclusive law that says no person shall be discriminated against under any educational program or activity that receives federal financial assistance.

The Legislature, in all its wisdom, replaced a perfectly workable system of local control that enabled nuanced student- and situation-specific decision making with a top-down, big-government mandate.

President Richard Nixon signed the law in 1972, but it didn’t have a major impact on women’s sports until an intercollegiate athletics policy was adopted in 1979. That policy declared women are entitled to the same athletic opportunities as men.

Debate in the Legislature shows how far apart opinions are about the trans athlete ban, even within the same party.

“Regardless of how anyone tries to frame the question of the transgender athlete … and their potential for a lost opportunity and their wellbeing, what we really need to do is think about the biological female, and put them at the forefront of the equation,” Schuler told the House Education Committee. 

“This bill is a broad brush against an entire class of citizen[s], banning a group,” countered Rep. Jerry Obermueller (R-Casper). “It’s ironic that a bill about fairness is, on its face, unfair in its targeting of a particular group of Wyoming kids.”

The National Women’s Law Center says transgender students “already face horrific amounts of hatred, violence, and discrimination simply for being who they are.”

On its website, the NWLC said “wrapping discrimination against girls and women who are transgender or intersex in the cloak of ‘protecting girls’ and women’s sports’ is unfounded and unhelpful, and often is nothing more than an attempt to mask anti-trans sentiment.”

In its 2020 ruling in an employment discrimination case, Bostock v. Clayton County, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that discrimination on the basis of a person’s gender identity is “inherently” a form of sex discrimination. Federal courts have consistently ruled Title IX and the U.S. Constitution afford all transgender individuals protection against sex-based discrimination.

Wyoming is one of 20 states that have banned all trans female athletes from playing in girls’ sports. But 17 states and the District of Columbia protect transgender students’ rights to pursue an education free from discrimination, including playing school sports.

Ban proponents contend biological males who identify as female have a distinct competitive advantage, and that allowing trans athletes to compete hurts cisgender women.

In fact, trans athletes vary in athletic ability just like cisgender athletes. A new report by E-Alliance, a research hub for gender and equity in sports, says biological data are severely limited and often methodologically flawed. It notes most studies do not adequately address factors such as height or lean body weight.

Dr. Eric Vilain, pediatrician and geneticist at National Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., told National Public Radio many trans women athletes take gender-affirming hormones that will reduce their muscle mass and red blood cells, which will decrease their speed, strength and endurance.

In other words, it’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Yet the Legislature, in all its wisdom, replaced a perfectly workable system of local control that enabled nuanced student- and situation-specific decision making with a top-down, big-government mandate.

And their ham-handedness doesn’t just hurt Wyoming’s trans kids.

“This divide and conquer tactic gets it exactly wrong,” says the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes categorical bans. “Excluding women who are trans hurts all women. It invites gender policing that could subject any woman to invasive tests or accusations of being ‘too masculine’ or ‘too good’ at their sport to be a ‘real’ woman.”

These tests may include a gynecological exam, blood work or chromosome testing. In Florida, Wyoming’s new “partner,” high school officials have stopped asking student athletes about their menstrual history. The change followed months of opposition from parents, physicians and transgender advocates. 

But Florida added a new question for students: “What was your sex at birth?”

In a DOE statement, Degenfelder defended the state’s trans ban “because I will always push back against the federal government encroaching on our ability to deal with issues in a way that works best for Wyoming.”

But the superintendent ignores the fact that Biden’s proposed federal rule gives Wyoming much of the flexibility she says it needs. 

The federal rule would allow schools to decide the eligibility of transgender athletes on a case-by-case basis. That’s how Wyoming did it — quite successfully — before the blanket ban, and it may well be how it does it again after the blanket ban gets hammered in court. Schuler even included such a configuration in the bill as a fallback position for when her ban loses in court.

Wyoming Equality, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, plans to file a lawsuit before the ban goes into effect July 1. Based on previous court rulings protecting transgender individuals against sex discrimination, it’s likely the lawsuit will get Wyoming’s ban tossed. 

If it does, the new state law requires creation of an independent eligibility commission to review participation of individual trans student athletes in seventh through 12th grades.

That’s in line with the proposed federal rule, which allows schools to develop their own participation policies. Schools would use grade level and the competitiveness of the teams and sport to make their decisions, and they could still limit or deny transgender student athletes.

It’s essentially what the Wyoming High School Activities Association has used for years to determine eligibility for the few trans students who seek to compete against cisgender women. No local decision in Wyoming schools has ever been appealed.

Yet, Degenfelder is happy to ignore the success of the status quo in favor of fanning the flames of division. She released this statement: “This is another attempt by the Biden administration to usurp the rights of states that will make women’s sports unsafe and unfair.”

What’s unsafe and unfair is putting targets on the backs of Wyoming school kids for being who they are.

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Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. Typical. A position that supports girls competing against girls is immediately labeled as “anti-liberal extremist” and lumped in with anti-tran arguments that support the position.

    Truth is, nobody but the progressive media cares if you are straight, gay, tran, or any other label. Repeat: Nobody cares. What parents do care about is fair competition. Men vs men, women vs women. Simply create a new category, tran vs tran. If you conflate this simple idea with “anti-liberal extremism” then you have not understood the challenges women have faced and diminish their accomplishments.

  2. What a term! “Anti-liberal extremist” because somebody has a different opinion. I guess I’m an “Anti-crime extremist” because I lock my doors at night….??.?.

  3. Young women train hard for volleyball, swimming,running , weight lifting. Allowing men to compete in their sports is a travestey that has resulted in injury to the females. Run another league for gender confused if they have a strong desire to compete. 20 second gender test for competitors.

  4. Why is it that every time some politician wants to force their opinion on the general public, they always pick a policy that’s already working so they feel they have to muck it up? Forget about local control of our schools.

  5. Punishing the majority of women, by allowing biological males to participate in women’s sports is asinine. The argument that due to puberty blockers, etc. that males who transition causes them to be equal biologically to women is nonsense. Just look at the data; most trans who participate in women’s sports win. Everyone in this nation has a choice of how to live their life, but they don’t have the freedom to force our culture to allow them an advantage over actual women in sports.

  6. It is so sad we can’t come together as a nation.

    One nation under God. Circa 1954, I think.

    What a concept……….

    There is so much hate in this country and no matter the political party is, they are contributing to that hate

    The band WAR said it well. “Why can’t we be friends”

  7. Why can’t this group of folks compete in athletics in the gender that they were born with? Why do the rights of a majority of athletes have to suffer to accommodate this? Ramona, I admire your fairness and charity, but stand up and fight for your daughter. If the legislature and governor would get busy and pass school choice and vouchers, there wouldn’t be any kids left in public schools anyway. Riki, they are not living their lives in peace. There is a national agenda to inflict all of the schools with this and do away with traditional values at the expense of everyone else. There should be compassion and understanding for every single student in school in whatever situation they are in, but this agenda is wrong.

    1. “There should be compassion and understanding for every single student in school in whatever situation they are in”…………unless they are transgender. Typical right wing attitude.

      1. That’s not what I meant and you know it. These young people deserve the same respect as any other, but no preference that harms others. This battle was brought by a national “trans” agenda, not by conservatives.

  8. Dear Mr. Drake,

    Thanks for taking on this topic, although I may disagree with your opinion, I nevertheless respect our need as a nation to talk over this issue and those related to it because for some reason it’s become a focus point for the current Biden administration even when we have more pressing priorities like our inflation, energy needs and sources among the top pressuring all Americans regardless of our personal preferences of who we are.

    Perhaps we need to get more creative.

    While focusing on keeping education (and the extracurriculars involved) as the focal point for the states to make their respective decisions, maybe it is time for Democrats, Republicans and other political parties in our nation to push back on the federal government and once again remind the federal system and its current crypt keepers that the issue of education and the corresponding sports programs should be left to the individual states to decide the details. We are a federal republic after all and Wyoming as I understand has a rich history of being a proponent of it.

    Again, my humble contribution as an alumni Division I long-distance female runner that went on scholarship to the University of Florida is that we may need to go ahead and create a new competitive category for the others like “trans” and whatever other initial or symbol we as a human race decide to come up with as needing that recognition.

    As a runner, I know the difference and as a mother of a daughter would like to protect her right to compete in a fair physical contest with her peers–follow the science.

  9. I guess the GOP needs to pick the smallest, most vulnerable population to target and make it the center of all their policy making. Very sad they have devolved to having nothing better to do than being a bully to a very small percentage of people who are just trying to live their lives in peace. I’m sure once they’ve perfected their technique on them they’ll come after everyone else that doesn’t look, act and think they way the want them to. America and Wyoming is going backwards in history while moving toward totalitarianism and making America a sad and embarrassing place to be right now.

  10. It seems that the goal is to set up a totalitarian theocracy. Money is no object to reach such a noble goal.

  11. Looks like Wyoming officials are “betting the farm” and likely to lose it. As self-distructive as Montana officials are.