Research Q&A with Spencer Harris: Legislation regarding transgender participation in school sport

Spencer Harris, Ph.D.
Professor of Sport Management

1. How would you describe the main idea or main takeaway from your most recent research or creative work to someone outside your field?

The key point in the paper is that state legislative efforts to exclude transgender participation in school sport has a lot more to do with political division and feeding a culture war. This has more to do with the desire to create sides and battle hostile or evil forces than it does address a real social problem.

2. What is the key paper or author/performer who has most inspired your recent research/creative work?

There is not really any specific paper or author that has most inspired my recent research although my former Ph.D. supervisor Barrie Houlihan will forever be an inspiration. The main inspiration for this paper came from two fundamentally flawed ideas: (1) that sport is apolitical and (2) that excluding transgender kids from school sport is predicated on sound science.

3. How do you see this research/creative piece contributing to new insights in the field/sparking conversation?

I hope that it will be used to add to the debates on the rights and responsibilities of sport agencies and the state to govern inclusively and fairly across all sectors (youth sport, community sport, performance sport, elite sport). I also hope that it will be used to critique the nonsense of sport autonomy, in particular, how sport chooses to use (and at times ignore) the principle of autonomy to either prevent (or allow) the state to legislate on who can and who cannot play sport.

4. Can you describe the contributions of co-authors or collaborators who were essential to the success of this project?    

Credit should go to Henry Ryan, a former undergraduate student in the sport management program at UCCS. Henry played an important role in collating the quantitative data and supporting the qualitative analysis of the bills and other secondary sources. Professor Roger Pielke Jr. (CU Boulder) and Professor Scott Jedlicka (Washington State University) were also co-authors here and have been on a number of other projects. On this paper, they helped to create the literature review and analyze the data, developing a stronger discussion and analysis than would likely have been possible working alone.

5. What impact do you hope this work makes?

I hope that my students will think about and discuss whether we think it is acceptable to pass legislation to ban certain groups from participating in sport.

I hope that the paper will lead to further research that explores the complexity of transgender participation in sport and the rights and responsibilities of sport organizations to govern effectively on the issue.

6. What is on deck for you as you get started on your next project?

I am currently working on a paper that analyzes the challenges associated with safeguarding sport in U.S. Olympic sport. Longer term, I hope to publish on the range of conditions that enable scandals in international and Olympic sport.

7. Where and when do you feel you are the most productive/creative/inspired?

I am most productive at home in my study, usually early mornings or late evenings.

You can read the paper here.