In late October the New York Times reported that the Department of Health and Human Services indicated their intent to adopt an explicit, binary definition of gender. The New York Times article’s authors suggest: “The new definition would essentially eradicate federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans who have opted to recognize themselves — surgically or otherwise — as a gender other than the one they were born into.”

As higher education professionals who care for the wellbeing of their campus communities, we know many of those 1.4 million Americans are a part of our institutions. We all have students and fellow staff who are affected by this news, either because they themselves identify as transgender or non-binary, or because they are allies of individuals who do.

As NIRSA has previously stated, “Rescinding protections from an already at-risk population seems a step backwards for our campuses and, by extension, impedes NIRSA’s vision of building healthy people and healthy communities. Our Association recognizes this decision as standing contrary to our values, particularly Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.”

NIRSA has long recognized that denial of equal civil rights can contribute to diminished health and quality of life. This association has a history of using its platform of recreation, sport, and wellbeing to support equal rights for our communities—on our campuses and beyond.

Most closely tied to this conversation is a decision NIRSA made in 2014 to update the participation guidelines and policies of the NIRSA Championship Series tournaments to be inclusive of transgender participants. As those policy updates attested:

NIRSA recognizes and celebrates the transgender student population among their tournament participants. Through the guiding policies of the NIRSA Championship Series tournaments, NIRSA empowers students to participate in intramural sports and sport club divisions based on their expressed gender identity.

As it has done so many times before, NIRSA will continue to stand by its values and support our members and their campus communities. The Government Affairs Committee has been engaged in work surrounding the Department of Education’s forthcoming proposed Title IX rule, and protections for gender identity will remain a part of our recommendations.

We know NIRSA members will rise to the challenge the same as they have on so many occasions before—supporting and advocating for the health, wellbeing, and protection of all of our campus community members.


  • For more information, please contact NIRSA Director of Advocacy & Strategic Partnerships Erin O’Sullivan.