ROCKPORT, Maine — A new policy that provides a pathway for transgender high school student-athletes in the state to participate in interscholastic sports teams gained final approval Thursday from the general membership of the Maine Principals’ Association.

The Transgender Participation Policy becomes effective immediately, according to MPA executive director Dick Durost, and is designed to allow student-athletes to participate in sports in accordance with their gender identity while seeking to maintain competitive equity among all participants and all teams.

“In the last year we had been contacted by a couple of transgender students very respectfully asking us to consider a policy that would meet their needs,” said Durost. “And in the end, we are about providing opportunities for all kids, so we’re trying to be proactive.”

Similar transgender sports participation policies have been adopted by high school athletic governing bodies in at least three other states — Colorado, Vermont and Washington — as well as by numerous other sports organizations worldwide including the National Collegiate Athletic Association and International Olympic Committee.

“We gathered information from the plans of those three states, then got our attorney involved in taking the best parts of those plans to create our policy,” Durost said.

MPA officials began drafting a transgender participation proposal early this year, and their final product subsequently gained the unanimous support of the organization’s Interscholastic Management Committee before being approved “nearly unanimously,” according to Durost, by the MPA general membership during its interscholastic business meeting held Thursday as part of the organization’s annual spring conference at the Samoset Resort.

“I think it’s the right thing to do and the right time to do it,” said Waterville Senior High School principal Don Reiter, president-elect of the MPA. “If we hadn’t done this, it’s an issue that’s growing and eventually the courts or the Maine Human Rights Commission was going to do it for us.

“The important issue is that transgender students face issues and encounter roadblocks every day of their lives, and hopefully this will clear up one of those roadblocks.”

The MPA’s effort gained immediate support from Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine, a Portland-based organization dedicated to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in the state.

“We applaud this decision, which will make participating in athletic programs safe and open to more Maine students,” she said. “We’re grateful to the Maine Principals’ Association for their thoughtful work on this issue and look forward to continued work with them and other groups to make Maine’s schools and school activities safe and accessible for every student.”

Under the new MPA policy, a student and-or parent or guardian may notify the school administrator or athletic administrator that the student has a consistent gender identity different than the birth-assigned gender or the gender listed on the student’s registration records and desires to participate in activities in a manner consistent with the student’s gender identity.

The school then would request a hearing with a newly established MPA Gender Identity Equity Committee. That panel will consist of five members, four of whom being present or former high school principals and assistant principals while the fifth would be a physician, psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed mental health professional with experience in gender identity health care and the World Professions Association for Transgender Health standards of care.

According to the policy, that confidential hearing would be held within seven business days of the request, and the GIE Committee will grant the student’s request to participate in accordance with the student’s stated gender identity unless it is convinced the student’s claim to be transgender is not bona fide or that allowing the student to compete on a single-sex team consistent with his or her gender identity would likely give the student-athlete an unfair athletic advantage or pose an unacceptable risk of physical injury to other student-athletes.

Approval of the student-athlete’s eligibility shall be binding on all MPA member schools and shall be valid through the duration of the student’s high school career unless the GIE Committee explicitly states that the approval is for a shorter period — which would come only in cases where is it is reasonably foreseeable that the student-athlete’s athletic advantage or the risk of injury to others may increase as the athlete matures.

If the request is denied, the student or student’s school may appeal to the MPA Interscholastic Management Committee, with the written decision of the IMC to be final and binding on all parties.

“We’re trying to do the right thing,” said Durost. “There are one or more transgender students in just about every high school in the state, and we need to recognize all kids for who they are and what their needs are.”

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...