Most Oregonians approve of a federal law that guarantees equal access to sports for girls and women, a survey from the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center found. (Photo by Getty Images via Canva)

Oregonians across the board support a now 50-year-old federal law that guarantees girls equal access to school sports, but they’re split on a current interpretation of the law that allows transgender students to play on their preferred teams.

That’s one takeaway from a May poll by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, a nonpartisan public opinion research organization. It surveyed a representative sample of 1,674 Oregon adults between May 6 and 19, seeking opinions and experiences with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The federal law prohibits any school or other education program that receives federal money from discriminating against or excluding a person because of sex. It’s most frequently correlated with sports: schools and colleges must provide equal opportunities for girls or women to compete and provide facilities and scholarship opportunities for female athletes comparable to those provided for men.

Over the past decade, Title IX has also been brought up frequently with sexual harassment or sexual violence on school campuses, as those crimes also constitute sex-based discrimination under federal law.

A little more than half the survey respondents said they were familiar with the law, and about two-thirds of that group felt positively about it. Another 28% didn’t know or had an equal mix of positive and negative opinions.

In open-ended responses, people described their own experiences with Title IX. A white woman in her late 60s from Multnomah County said Title IX was new when she graduated from high school in 1973 and didn’t apply to her private school, but she wished it had.

“We had practically no practice time in the gym where we were meant to then compete, so there was no home court advantage,” she said. “I wore the basketball uniform that my five years older brother had worn.”

One white man from Clackamas County in his 60s or 70s said he enjoys watching women compete as much as men during the Olympics and NCAA basketball tournaments.

“The skill level of women athletes has become very high, and I’m sure the opportunities provided by Title IX to girls and young women have been greatly beneficial,” he said.

However, most respondents said men’s or boys’ teams maintain advantages over women’s or girls’ teams.  A current female college student in Benton County said she still sees “astounding” differences in the way men’s and women’s teams are advertised and celebrated on campus.

Nearly 70% of respondents said they supported Title IX being used to respond to sexual violence on campus, and another 17% leaned toward supporting the law’s use to force universities to address sexual violence under Title IX, colleges and universities must investigate allegations of sexual harassment or violence on campus regardless of any criminal investigations.

But when it came to more recent interpretations of the law as it relates to sexual orientation and gender identity, Oregonians were divided. The Biden administration announced last year that it will interpret the law to consider discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity as discrimination on the basis of sex.

In a school setting, that interpretation means schools must allow transgender students to play on sports teams or use facilities like locker rooms that correlate with their gender identity, not their biological sex. Some 41% of respondents said they agreed that transgender students should be allowed to play on teams that matched their current identity, 39% said they should only play on teams that matched their birth gender and 21% didn’t know.

Oregonians were similarly divided on bathroom usage, with 50% saying transgender students should use facilities that match their current identity, 30% saying that they should only use bathrooms that match their birth gender and 20% saying they didn’t know.

Women, Democrats, people younger than 29 and Multnomah County residents were more likely to support transgender students playing on sports teams and using bathrooms that aligned with their gender identity.

Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Julia Shumway, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.