“It’s not equality because when you’re competing against a biological male, it’s not an equal playing field – even if they are on hormones,” said Shannon Arena, whose maiden name is Gagne.
In an interview Thursday, Arena told Fox News: “I think the effects of this participation with women in sports is huge … the one girl that doesn’t make the team, or the one girl that gets passed for a scholarship, or the one girl that doesn’t get the personal satisfaction and honor of a first-place finish because of a biological male’s participation – is one too many. It’s just not fair.”
As a college athlete, Arena took home five national titles and was a nine-time All American. While competing as a Division II athlete, she also received one of the National College Athletics Association (NCAA) Today’s most prestigious honors – the Top VIII Award.
But roughly a decade after leaving the University of New Haven, Arena says she’s “disappointed” by how the nation’s top college athletics association has handled the ongoing controversy over gender.
“I think everyone deserves to be treated with respect but my concern as a former athlete and as a coach is that transgender athletes will diminish opportunities for biological women,” Arena told Fox News on Thursday.
“I just fear that we are plowing over the biological female athletes – these girls and women that work tirelessly and that have had to overcome so many societal barriers to have the benefit of fair competition just for the sake and the inclusion of the transgender community.”
Arena’s comments came amid a spate of state-level legislation that has reinvigorated debate on the issue.
“I think the bills being passed are protecting girls in sports,” Arena told Fox News. “These governors support the young women in their states and can foresee the issue affecting a wide range of athletes.”
Earlier this week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis became the latest governor to sign legislation touted as a way to ensure fairness in women’s sports.
California gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner also recently caught attention for taking a position like Arena’s.
“This is a question of fairness, that’s why I oppose biological boys who are trans competing in girls sports in school,” said Jenner, a former track star who competed in the Olympics. “It just isn’t fair, and we have to protect girls sports in our schools.”
DeSantis’ bill blocks athletes from competing on women’s teams if their birth certificate says they’re male. Selina Soule, a track star from Arena’s home state of Connecticut, said during DeSantis’ press conference that “[a]llowing male athletes to compete in girls’ sports shatters dreams.”
Prior to that, another Connecticut track athlete, Chelsea Mitchell, published an op-ed titled, “I Was the Fastest Girl in Connecticut. But Transgender Athletes Made it an Unfair Fight.”
In an interview with Fox News, Mitchell said: “I’ve lost four women’s state championship titles, two all-New England awards, and countless other opportunities and spots on the podium to biologically male runners.”
On Thursday, Arena told Fox News she wanted “to speak out because – I want to support those brave girls in Connecticut that are speaking out.”
She added that she wanted to speak for “all that are fearful of being labeled as someone who’s filled with hate … I’m filled with empathy – especially for these girls that are deprived of this equality in sports.”
Arena is currently stay-at-home mom who coaches high school athletes part-time. Girls in track are hit uniquely disadvantaged in comparison to those in other sports, she indicated to Fox News.
“In track specifically I think you have the biggest disparity … I know that someone who’s just looking at times – they would say, oh, they’re just a couple seconds slower, but that’s a couple seconds that a woman can really never make up compared to a male,” said Arena, who was inducted into the New Haven Athletics Hall of Fame. She was the first female track and field student-athlete to receive that honor and the third female track and field performer to win the Capital One Academic All-America of the Year for the College Division award.
“To the average person, it might look close, but really it’s unattainable for a woman.”
In April, NCAA defended its policy, which requires testosterone suppression treatment, as part of their vision for “fair competition.”
“The NCAA Board of Governors firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports,” a statement read. “This commitment is grounded in our values of inclusion and fair competition.”
“The NCAA has a long-standing policy that provides a more inclusive path for transgender participation in college sports. Our approach – which requires testosterone suppression treatment for transgender women to compete in women’s sports – embraces the evolving science on this issue and is anchored in participation policies of both the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. Inclusion and fairness can coexist for all student-athletes, including transgender athletes, at all levels of sport.”
Arena told Fox News that the NCAA’s handling of the issue was “disappointing.”
She added: “I just think it’s disappointing that women are not provided the opportunity of equality in sports,” she said.
Advocates like the American Civil Liberties Union have similarly argued that “[t]rans athletes do not have an unfair advantage in sports.”
The American Medical Association said in March that “barring transgender females from participating in school-sponsored organized sports consistent with their gender identity frustrates the treatment of gender dysphoria by preventing transgender females from living openly in accordance with their true gender.”
They added: “This lack of treatment, in turn, increases the rate of negative mental health outcomes, substance abuse and suicide. In order for transgender females to live their lives fully in accordance with their gender identity, they must be able to publicly identify and compete as female athletes.”
But critics maintain that those types of arguments can’t erase fundamental realities about human biology.
“I’ve read opponents state trans athletes are not affecting women, but what about the track athletes in [Connecticut] that were beat out by trans athletes?” Arena asked. “What about the trans track and field hurdler in Division II that won a national title?”
“It’s happening more frequently and without protection, it will continue and women will suffer. As Caitlyn Jenner, arguably one of the greatest athletes of all time, said, biological girls should compete again biological girls. Gender assigned at birth and the associated physical attributes cannot be completely erased.”
Arena also asserted that hormone therapy wasn’t enough to balance the playing field. “I think a biological male, even on hormone therapy, has and always will have a physical advantage compared to the average woman,” said Arena.
“Bone density, height, muscle mass – reducing testosterone for a couple of years is not going to make those things diminish entirely.”
Fox News’ Teny Sahakian contributed to this report.