Transgender Inclusion in Sports

May 16, 2014, 12:27 a.m.

(Trigger warning: For the purpose of education, this article mentions terms that have been used as slurs and in hateful speech against members of the LGBT community.)


When Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams this past weekend, he became the first openly gay player in the NFL. In February, former Stanford basketball star Jason Collins ’01 made news as an openly gay sports icon competing in a major American sport. And Russia’s Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Brazil’s 2014 World Cup and NBA’s ban of Donald Sterling show that sports can be a flashpoint for controversies surrounding race, class and LGBT rights.

Last week’s Transgender Awareness Week at Stanford cast a spotlight on an underserved and less visible segment of the LGBT community, culminating in a well-attended talk by Laverne Cox. And while you may binge on Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black,” in which Cox stars, you may not know as much about the topic of transgender athletes in sports.

In this op-ed we raise issues relevant to trans athletes at Stanford and beyond. Formed last year, the student group Stanford Athletes and Allies Together (StAAT) works to ensure that athletics are a safe and supportive space for all athletes, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. This aligns with the NCAA’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and gender equity among its student-athletes, coaches and administrators. As part of an effort to raise awareness and educate student-athletes and allies, here is how you can help.

As a player on the field or a fan in the stands, consider that words matter. Terms such as “fag,” “tranny” and so on have no place in sports. Stemming from the gender stereotypes of each sport, these derogatory phrases serve to police whether each athlete prescribes to society’s image of the “ideal” man or woman. Athletes must be respected based on their athletic ability, not judged on whether they are considered “masculine” or “feminine” enough while competing.

If you serve as a leader in athletics, whether as a captain, coach or staff member, be explicitly inclusive on paper and in person, especially at the beginning of a season. In that first team meeting, a statement by you—as a leader—welcoming all of your team members that includes the words lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender would let us know we are accepted by you, and the team will follow your lead. Actively educate yourself about issues of diversity, and reach out to StAAT or the LGBT Community Resource Center for additional resources. When silence or intolerance is the norm, showing subtle forms of support can help, such as wearing a StAAT or “Ally” button, or displaying a “This is a safe space” sticker (provided at the LGBT-CRC) outside your door. It does not need to be difficult to foster respect for all teammates.

On a larger scale, the International Olympic Committee and New York State’s Education Department have official guidelines for transgender athletes. California’s AB1266 protects K-12 youth from discrimination on the basis of gender, gender expression and gender identity, extending to sex-segregated school activities such as athletic teams and competitions. U.S. Soccer is one national governing body (NGB) which has adopted trans inclusive policies, but more work needs to be done in reaching out to other NGBs.

In 2011, the NCAA published a guidebook of recommended policies for the inclusion of collegiate transgender student-athletes. Since then, various universities have adopted transgender policies (see for a list). These actions affirm that organizations such as the NCAA want to make athletics a welcoming space for transgender athletes. The NCAA Office of Inclusion states, “As a core value, the NCAA believes in and is committed to diversity, inclusion and gender equity among its student-athletes, coaches and administrators.”

We respectfully ask that Stanford University adopt the NCAA Inclusion of Transgender Student-Athletes policy as part of the larger process of making our teams a welcoming atmosphere for transgender athletes. The Department of Athletics at UC-Berkeley adopted these policies in 2011, signaling the attention of the Cal athletics administration to LGBT issues and representing an administrative effort to educate coaches and athletes about these issues. While ensuring that transgender athletes can compete, these policies are in no way perfect, neglecting to address concerns outside of the gender binary. Nevertheless, they are an important starting point. StAAT hopes to work alongside the athletic department to discuss the process for Stanford to adopt such a policy.


Stanford Athletes and Allies Together


Contact Annie Graham at [email protected].

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