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Trans Inclusion is Inclusion by Laura McPhie & Andrea Carey

When we think about Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Trans Inclusion is an important part of that discussion. As sport navigates this space, we want to encourage you to think about how we start by including trans participants at all levels of sport. It is time to think about gender categories in very different ways than the binary options that have always existed.

Over this past week we have seen two International Sport Federations (IF) come out with “gender inclusion policies”. FINA, the international body for aquatic sports put their policy forward to their members on Sunday, and it was adopted. The policy will only allow transgender women who began transitioning before the age of 12 to compete in high-level international competitions,  International Rugby League went even further, banning all transgender women from international matches while it reviews and updates its rules on participation. 

The new policies come after the International Olympic Committee last year announced it would not set a blanket rule for all sports — telling federations they should come up with their own policies. Until now, most organizations, including FINA and World Athletics, have allowed transgender and intersex women to compete as long as they meet rules for suppressing testosterone levels. This new wave of policies are harmful, transphobic and guided by fear. In a sport system which was already struggling with participation levels, especially after the pandemic, we should be focused on how we bring people into sport and create ways to include them.

Let’s consider some data in this space:

1. There is no research, evidence, or consistent examples of Trans athletes ‘dominating’ women’s sport

2. There is evidence that a woman’s body drastically changes when they start taking hormones to align with their gender

3. Compared with cisgender, heterosexual adolescents, transgender adolescents showed 5 times the risk of suicidal ideation (95% confidence interval [CI] 3.63 to 6.75; 58% v. 10%) and 7.6 times the risk of suicide attempt (95% CI 4.76 to 12.10; 40% v. 5%). (https://lnkd.in/gkdG_YxH)

4. In a Canadian survey of transgender and gender-nonconforming youth aged 14–25 years, 64% of participants reported that they had seriously considered suicide in the previous 12 months. Transgender
and gender-nonconforming youth seem to have a higher probability of many risk factors for suicidality, including peer victimization, family dysfunction and barriers to accessing mental health care.


5. One in four transgender women who were victimized thought the incident was a hate crime compared to less than one in ten cisgender women. (https://lnkd.in/g9WxJGzS)

6. There are approximately 15 million high school students in the United States, and approximately 8 million of them participate in high school sports. A CDC study published in 2019 estimated that 1.8 percent of high school students are transgender, meaning there are roughly 270,000 transgender students in U.S. high schools. But a report by the Human Rights Campaign found that only 14% of transgender boys and 12% of transgender girls play sports. Given all of those numbers, it’s statistically possible that there are some 35,000 transgender student-athletes in high school, which would mean 0.44% of high school athletes are transgender. (https://lnkd.in/gyvmFgbE)

Sport should not be perpetuating this violence with policies like this. We don’t need them. These types of policies are rooted in protectionism – protectionism of a sport world that doesn’t actually exist. Each athlete has advantages and disadvantages based on their genetics, their circumstances, their experiences and their access. There. Is. No. Evidence.

How about instead of creating policies out of fear that proactively exclude people who likely already know that sport is harmful and does not want them, let’s create policies that create inclusion and then
lets see what happens first. Let’s welcome all athletes and future athletes into our sports, and then we can see what the true numbers of participants who identify as trans are, and if we need to find some new ways to encourage participation, then we can figure that out – but we will never know if that is even a topic when we exclude them from the outset.
Let’s create an environment that allows there to be inclusion and then assess how that is going.

Sports are investing funds and resources into creating diversity, equity and inclusion strategies and policies, let’s ensure that work is about all participants and gender identities.

If you are a sport organization that needs support on this, we are here to support you to navigate this and to connect you with trans specialists. You are not alone, and this is a new area to navigate – but please think about how we start with inclusion as you go forward.