National Women's Hockey League announces transgender policy

Harrison Browne
Harrison Browne

Harrison Browne of the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts. (Photo via Troy Parla)

The National Women’s Hockey League has introduced a policy on transgender athletes, which goes into effect immediately. In doing so, the four-team NWHL becomes the first professional league in North America to implement such a policy.

“The NWHL recognizes all forms of gender expression,” the league said in a press release. “Therefore, the NWHL supports athletes choosing to express their gender beyond the binary of female and male.”

According to the press release, the policy — which was created with input from the You Can Play Project and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) — includes “eligibility guidelines in order to ensure a fair and level playing field for all participants.”

“This is really a groundbreaking policy in professional sports, and specifically in women’s professional sports,” said Chris Mosier, vice-president for program development and community relations for You Can Play, to the New York Times.

In October, Harrison Browne of the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts publicly announced he is transgender, becoming the first athlete in professional team sports to do so.

“I identify as a man,” said Browne in an interview with ESPN on Oct. 7.

Browne, who previously identified as Hailey Browne, reportedly told the NWHL he wouldn’t undergo gender reassignment surgery until after retiring as a pro hockey player, nor would he take any testosterone supplements while playing because it violates the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

“This is an opportunity to move the conversation forward and accelerate social progress,” said NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan in the league’s press release. “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 NWHL, which is in its second year of existence, has four teams: the Boston Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale and New York Riveters.

Here, in full, is the NWHL’s Policy on Participation of Transgender Athletes:

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:

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.

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.

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.

2. 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.


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.

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.

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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