Exclusions from trans sports impact youth and amateur groups


Transgender athletes face growing restrictions as debates over inclusion, fairness and safety affect youth and amateur groups

  • Debates about trans athletes and inclusion reach the grassroots
  • UK rugby restricts trans girls, citing fairness and safety
  • LGBTQ+ groups say periods are unjustified and fuel stigma

By Lucy Middleton

LONDON, Aug 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As a transgender teenager, former elite British rugby player Verity Smith was told he would be kicked out of the women’s rugby team if he started living as a a boy – even if he didn’t start hormone therapy at the gender transition.

Forced to choose between a love of the sport and a wish to live openly as a trans man, Smith chose rugby for years, delaying his gender transition for more than two decades.

Now, he fears many other young trans people face similar dilemmas as lawmakers and a growing number of sports bodies around the world restrict trans participation in grassroots games.

“I never want another child to go through my life again worrying… (that) they’re going to lose their sport,” said Smith, 41, who had a long career in women’s rugby before finally begin its transition. about four years ago.

“The question shouldn’t be where they are allowed to play, but rather, ‘How can we get them involved?’

A growing number of sports bodies are taking action to prevent trans athletes from competing in elite women’s events, amid heated debate over how to balance inclusion and fairness.

Such policies within professional teams are now increasingly influencing decisions about inclusion at school and community events, LGBTQ+ groups say.

“(The impact) ripples through,” said Abby Barras, a researcher at Mermaids, a UK charity that supports trans children.

“Of course, many trans people find a way around the barriers to practice their sport, but not without harassment.”

Some women’s rights groups and sports bodies say action is needed to restrict trans players to ensure fairness and, in the case of contact sports, to protect the safety of players who have assigned to a female at birth.

Trans groups say the exclusions lack scientific basis and leave vulnerable sexual minorities facing stigma.

‘FAIR COMPETITION’

UK rugby is at the center of the debate after the English sports bodies Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Rugby Football League (RFL) recommended last week that only female players assigned at birth be allowed to play in the women’s category.

“For all Rugby League Under 12+ contacts, there will be a female-only category, in which players will only be allowed to play in the gender category of the sex originally registered at birth.” , said the RFL.

The RFU said that until new peer-reviewed data becomes available, it has decided “that a precautionary approach is appropriate to ensure fair competition and the safety of all competitors”.

Earlier this year, British Triathlon banned all trans women from competing in the women’s category at the two basic elite levels, instead allowing them to compete in an “open” category alongside the men.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in 18 US states have passed restrictions prohibiting trans students in schools or colleges from competing in sports classes that match their gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project think tank.

Many focus only on limiting access to women’s sport – but some also prevent boys and young trans men from competing based on their gender identity.

PERFORMANCE QUESTIONS

Much of the debate over trans inclusion centers on whether trans women who have gone through male puberty might have an unfair advantage.

“The female category exists for a reason,” said Fiona McAnena, director of Fair Play for Women, a UK group that opposes allowing trans women to be allowed in single-sex female spaces.

“What should happen is to make sure it’s perfectly acceptable to have your gender expression, while competing in the category of your birth.”

There is little research on the impact of medical transition on athletic ability, with studies on the topic typically including very small numbers of participants.

Trans women lose speed and strength after starting hormones, but still have some performance advantage over other women after two years, a small study published in the British Journal of Sports has found. Medicine in 2020.

A 2015 study of eight trans female runners by medical physicist and trans woman Joanna Harper found that their running times were so slowed that they retained no advantage.

“Trans women may have advantages in sports like basketball, but disadvantages in sports like gymnastics,” Harper said.

“The question … is whether there can be meaningful competition.”

Only two trans women have reached Olympic level in their sport since the first inclusive policy was introduced in 2003.

“With the argument of unfair advantage, trans women would theoretically win every event they enter. Yet that is not the case,” said Vixx Thompson, director of UK sports network Trans-Fitness.

“Inclusion is so vital. We know the various benefits sport and activity can have for people – making new friends, staying healthy. It can really help people cope with health issues. mental.”

MENTAL HEALTH EFFECTS

The impact of policies that exclude or deter trans people from sport can be heavy, rights groups and players say.

Numerous studies have found that trans and gender non-conforming people suffer from high levels of poor mental health and are less likely to participate in physical activities or sports.

They report barriers ranging from the fear of facing discrimination and not being accepted by others to the lack of appropriate changing rooms.

Several sports bodies are considering creating new open categories specifically for trans and non-binary athletes.

But other LGBTQ+ sports clubs have expressed concerns about how long it will take to settle and whether there will be enough people to fill them, with studies suggesting only around 1% of people are trans .

“It’s not about medals,” said Smith, who now works as a sports inclusion manager at Mermaids and plays on a wheelchair team following injury.

“Sport teaches you how to make friends, it’s a point of community. They are children and they miss out.”

Related stories:

Participation of trans athletes in sport: where is the debate?

Transgender athletes will compete in the ‘open’ category under new UK triathlon policy

Bans on trans sports are ‘alarmist,’ says Marvel actor Zach Barack

(Reporting by Lucy Middleton; Editing by Sonia Elks. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world struggling to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust .org)

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