Conversations about gender identity and transgender athletes are definitely going mainstream these days. Just recently there have been two high profile stories: the first openly transgender athlete competing in the NCAA, and the change to the constitution of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) to remove a requirement that members be “female at birth”. Personally, I welcome these conversations because this is a bold new area of human rights law and thus very intriguing. I have also noted, with relief, that neither of these two cases really raised much fuss. The NCAA player is supported by his teammates, coaches and university, and the members of the LPGA who voted to change the constitution basically indicated it was a “no-brainer”. Some media outlets tried to make this sensational, but there really wasn’t a controversy there.
How times have changed! On our website are several pieces that we have written about the ugly underbelly of homophobia in sport and also about the more complicated (and for many people, even more controversial and objectionable) issue of inclusion of transgender individuals in sport. AthletesCAN, the CCES and CAAWS are to be applauded for their recent groundbreaking work in the Promising Practices project. Initially, I prepared the proposal for funding this research project for another organization but it went unfunded. A few years later, Sport Canada agreed that the research and discussion was important to the question of fair, ethical and inclusive sport in Canada. The resulting literature reviews and discussion paper (authored by Brenda Wagman) are comprehensive and thought-provoking.
A new publication has just been released in the United States and I think it is very relevant for all Canadian sport leaders. The paper, titled On the Team: Equal Opportunity for Transgender Student-Athletes and authored by Pat Griffin and Helen Carroll, flows from a 2009 think tank session (attended by several Canadian sport leaders) that was sponsored by the Women’s Sports Foundation and the National Centre on Lesbian Rights. The publication provides guidance to high school and collegiate athletic programs about how to ensure transgender student athletes receive fair, respectful and legal access to school sports teams.
Examples of policies and standards for eligibility, participation, and inclusion are also part of this report. In this regard, the publication goes one step beyond the work done previously in Canada. In early 2008, when I was involved in Promising Practices, I did not feel that our state of knowledge and insight was sufficient enough to frame policy. But today I think sport leaders are ready.
Here is a PDF copy of On the Team: On The Team - Equal Opportunity for Transgender Student Athletes.
Originally published: Centre for Sport and Law Newsletter (2010) Vol. 6(4)