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NWHL & You Can Play Project Release Policy on transgendered athletes

The National Women’s Hockey League released, in conjunction with the You Can Play Project, a policy regarding participation of transgendered athletes on Tuesday.

The NWHL, in its second season, became the first professional league in North America with an openly transgendered player, when Buffalo Beauts forward Harrison Browne laced up the skates prior to the 2016-2017 season. A few months later, they finally have an actual policy on the matter.

As stated in the purpose section policy, written with the You Can Play Project along with counsel and advisors from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, “The NWHL recognizes all forms of gender expression. Therefore, the NWHL supports athletes choosing to express their gender beyond the binary of female and male.”

The guidelines of the policy were put in place to help ensure that a fair and balanced level of play is in place for all the players.

NWHL commissioner, Dani Rylan said, “This is an opportunity to move the conversation forward and accelerate social progress. The NWHL wants to be a reference point and resource for the next player or league that may feel uncertain or underprepared for their moment.”

The You Can Play Project was founded in 2012 to help ensure the safety and inclusion of all in sports, including LGBTQ athletes, coaches and fans.

Vice President of Program Development and Community Relations, Chris Mosier said, “You Can Play is proud to partner with the NWHL to create the most inclusive policy in women’s professional sports. It comes down to respect, when we respect a player’s identity name and pronoun, we are creating a space where athletes can show up as their authentic self, allowing them to be better players, teammates and leaders.”

The policy which goes into effect immediately, is based off the guidelines that the International Olympic Committee released earlier this year, which helped to make it less difficult for transgendered athletes to compete at the Olympic Games. One of which no longer require athletes to undergo reassignment surgery.

The NWHL was thrusted into the national spotlight on the issue, on October 7 when Browne, a 23-year-old forward came out as a transgendered man in an article, released just before the 2016-2017 season. During the inaugural season, Browne was known as Hailey Browne.

Rylan, who helped oversee the changing of Browne’s player profile name and pronouns on the league’s website said, “It was a nudge in the right direction after Harrison approached us this fall.”

The most restrictive conditions relate to the athletes who switch from male to female, due to circumstances which have raised questions about fairness. An athlete is also not allowed to change their gender for at least four years, and must prove that her testosterone level is “within typical limits of women athletes.”

Browne told the New York Times, that he decided to come out for personal reasons and not necessarily for transgender issues. He has found himself helping and advising parents and transgender high school athletes, who have reached out to him, on how to come out to their teammates.

His huge social media following has helped make him a popular transgender figure. League merchandise with Browne’s name ranks third in sales. Only Amanda Kessel of the New York Riveters and Hilary Knight of the Boston Pride rank higher. Kessel and Knight are both members of the United States Women’s National Team.

Browne, who did not have any input on drafting the policy added, “I feel accomplished that I was able to get the ball rolling, and save some grief for any trans player that may come into the league after me. I think it is very inclusive, I do not think it is discriminatory at all. I think it is very fair”

In regards to the fact that athletes come in all shapes sizes, Rylan was optimistic about the NWHL and its new guidelines saying, “We still hold tryouts in our league. We are always looking for the best 68 players in the world to play in the league.”

The full policy is included below as written by the NWHL and You Can Play.

National Women’s Hockey League Policy on Participation of Transgender Athletes

December, 2016

The National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) is committed to creating safe and inclusive spaces while maintaining competitive equity in women’s professional hockey.

Guiding Principles

The NWHL will use the following principles to determine eligibility for tryouts and play in accordance with this policy:

  1. a)  This policy exists to reassure transgender athletes of the protections and support they have, both within law and within the NWHL policies and protocols.
  2. b)  The implementation and administration of this policy will consider a fair and equitable level of monitoring that is respectful, inclusive, and respects a person’s human rights.
  3. c)  This policy may be modified, updated, or otherwise changed pending updated medical and expert information.


The NWHL recognizes all forms of gender expression. Therefore, the NWHL supports athletes choosing to express their gender beyond the binary of female and male. The NWHL will use the eligibility guidelines set out in this policy in order to ensure a fair and level playing field for all participants.

Eligibility Guidelines

Considering the most up-to-date medical and expert information available at the time of the implementation of this policy, participation is open to:

  1. People designated female at birth, regardless of their gender identity.

1.1 The athlete may not take testosterone hormone therapy. Athletes transitioning to male who undergo hormone therapy will be ineligible to compete.

  1. Those who transition from male to female are eligible to compete under the following conditions:

2.1. The athlete has declared that her gender identity is female. The declaration cannot be changed, for sporting purposes, for a minimum of four years.

2.2. The athlete must demonstrate that her total testosterone level in serum is within typical limits of women athletes.

2.3. The athlete’s total testosterone level in serum must remain in the typical range of women athletes throughout the period of desired eligibility to compete in the female category.

2.4. Compliance with these conditions may be monitored by testing. In the event of non-compliance, the athlete’s eligibility in the league will be suspended for 12 months.


An athlete may initiate the process by contacting the NWHL prior to try-outs outlining their wish to participate in accordance to the NWHL’s Transgender Athlete policy. The NWHL may, with a credible basis for believing that the athlete is asserting a transgender identity for an improper purpose, ask for additional information before moving forward with registration. Upon review of information and if it is deemed sufficient, the athlete will immediately be eligible to try out or compete if offered a position, and will continue to do so unless circumstances dictate that another gender declaration should be made.

Athletes currently participating in the NWHL who wish to make changes to their gender identity, name, pronoun, or other markers within the league should contact the NWHL to assist in making these changes on official publications and listings.


All of the information and documents related to the eligibility of a transgender athlete will be treated as highly confidential. The Parties agree that they will not at any time disclose that information or documents (other than in the ordinary and usual course of implementing this policy) without the prior written consent of the disclosing party, unless required by law.


  1. a) Gender identity is each person’s sense of belonging to a particular gender, such as woman, man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum. Current science recognizes that gender identity is innate or fixed at a young age and strongly indicates that gender identity has a biological basis. A person’s gender identity may be the same as or different from their birth-assigned sex. When a person’s gender identity is different from that person’s birth-assigned sex, gender identity is determinative of that person’s sex.
  2. b) Gender expression is how a person publicly presents their gender. This can include behavior and outward appearance such as dress, hair, make-up, body language and voice. A person’s chosen name and pronoun are also common ways of expressing gender.
  3. c) Trans or transgender is a term that refers to a person whose gender identity, or affirmed sex, that is different from the sex they were assigned or assumed to be at birth.

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