Law professor discusses Title IX's impact on athletic and LGBT communities

Students at the Rainbow Center listen to Erin Buzuvis discuss how Title IX protects the civil rights of LBGT athletes and coaches on Dec. 7, 2016. Buzuvis is a Professor of Law at Western New England University; her topics of interest include sex, gender, and sexual orientation discrimination. (Akshara Thejaswi/The Daily Campus)

Students at the Rainbow Center listen to Erin Buzuvis discuss how Title IX protects the civil rights of LBGT athletes and coaches on Dec. 7, 2016. Buzuvis is a Professor of Law at Western New England University; her topics of interest include sex, gender, and sexual orientation discrimination. (Akshara Thejaswi/The Daily Campus)

Erin Buzuvis, Professor of Law at Western New England University, analyzed the importance of Title IX for athletes, coaches and the LGBT community at the Rainbow Center on Wednesday.

Buzuvis researches, writes and speaks about Title IX and sex, sexual orientation and gender discrimination alongside her professorship.

Buzuvis said that Title IX has grown to include more than sex discrimination in education. It has been interpreted in such a way that sexual orientation and gender discrimination fall under the category of sex.

Buzuvis referenced the case of Harris vs. Portland, in which Penn State women’s basketball coach Rene Portland terminated the scholarship of one of the players, Jennifer Harris, in 2005 because she assumed that Harris was a lesbian.

The coach cited the way she dressed as one of her reasonings behind her assumptions, stating that she wore baggy clothes and corn rows, which could be interpreted as racial discrimination as well. Harris’ lawyer defended the player using Title IX, and the coach was forced to resign.

Buzuvis said that there is pressure in the sporting world to appear feminine and conform to gender stereotypes, although athleticism in itself is a masculine stereotype.

She went on to discuss another case in which Title IX was used as the main legal basis. In Videckis vs. Pepperdine University, filed in 2015, when it was discovered that two students on the women’s basketball team were in a relationship, the coach told them that lesbianism wasn’t welcome at the school.

“Any time you discriminate based on sexual orientation, you are automatically taking sex into account,” Buzuvis said.

She explained that Videckis vs. Pepperdine University was a key case because the court ruled that sexual orientation was in fact a part of Title IX.

Buzuvis said that Title IX does not apply to any religious institution if the application is inconsistent with the religious tenets of the organization, but they risk losing popularity and public respect if they use their religion to fight Title IX.

Buzuvis discussed the struggle that transgender athletes face when picking which team they want to play for. Women who transition to men are not allowed to play for a women’s team once they begin taking testosterone, she said.

One success story of a transgender athlete Buzuvis shared was that of Keelin Godsey, who came out to his women’s track team at Bates College in 2005.

Buzuvis said that Bates College supported his social transition and allowed him to be a part of the team. Godsey did not go through any physical transitions until his track career was over.

Godsey did recall feeling excluded at times, including when he was forced to change in a closet instead of the locker room with the rest of the track team, which made him feel separated from the group, Buzuvis said.

She said that for grades K-12, as long as you identify as female, you can participate in women’s sports in many states.

“If we want there to be acceptance, the best way to start it is when they are young,” Buzuvis said.

The United States Department of Education plays a large role in the interpretation of Title IX, Buzuvis said. She also said that it is crucial to follow the new education secretary and to understand her views on Title IX.


Sarah Maddox is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at sarah.maddox@uconn.edu.