A rally held on the anniversary of Title IX to call on U.S. President Joe Biden to put restrictions on transgender females and "advocate to keep women's sports female". GETTY IMAGES

The Biden administration has put on hold a plan to prohibit across-the-board bans on transgender athletes on school teams during an election year in which Republicans are rallying around restrictions on trans youths. Though GOP state leaders are making sure voters know the issue is still on the table, according to the Associated Press.

More GOP states are challenging the rules protecting transgender students, with Sesen more Republican-led states suing over Title IX just last month. While Title IX doesn't specifically mention transgender athletes, it spells out that Title IX, the landmark 1972 law originally passed to address women's rights at schools and colleges receiving federal money, also bars discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Republicans now are trying to keep the focus on sports, appealing to parents' and athletes' sensitivities over fairness in competition, arguing the new rule would open the door to forcing schools to allow transgender athletes to compete on teams aligning with their gender identity, even if the rule doesn’t say so specifically. 

Advocates for transgender athletes say the GOP officials' claims are more rooted in politics than reality and are aimed more at undercutting litigation against state restrictions on transgender athletes.

The White House originally planned to include a new policy forbidding schools from enacting outright bans on transgender athletes, but that was put on hold in what was widely seen as a political move to avert controversy before the fall election. The Education Department said it has received more than 150,000 public comments on the athletics policy but didn't give a timeline for release of the rule.

Many states challenging the rule have also enacted laws placing restrictions on transgender athletes, as well as on the restrooms and changing rooms they can use or pronouns they can be addressed by at school, policies that could also be voided by the regulations. Many lawmakers who have pushed for athletic bans haven't cited examples in their own states, instead pointing to a handful of high-profile cases elsewhere, such as swimmer Lia Thomas.

When Arkansas Gov Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed an executive order refusing to comply with the latest Title IX regulations, she was joined by former Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines, who was among more than a dozen college athletes who sued the NCAA for allowing Thomas to compete at the national championships in 2022.

The lawsuits also come as GOP states try to get the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on their restrictions on transgender athletes. West Virginia is appealing a ruling that allowed a transgender athlete to compete on her middle school teams. The ruling last month from the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals found that the ban violated the student's rights under Title IX.

"Many of these cases are premature and certainly just trying to undercut the basic notion that trans students are protected under Title IX and attempting to continue the exclusions that we have seen in states across the country with respect to athletics," said Paul Castillo, an attorney with Lambda Legal.