Martina Navratilova has been known as a champion for the LGBTQ community and human rights for the better part of 40 years.
So it was a bit surprising when she posted something on Twitter earlier this week that seemed to fly in the face of trans-athlete inclusion so many people have fought for so many years to build.
“You can’t just proclaim yourself a female and be able to compete against women,” Navratilova tweeted. “There must be some standards, and having a penis and competing as a woman would not fit that standard.”
Various Right-wing publications had a field day with Navratilova’s claim, using her “penis” theory as evidence of their own anti-trans perspectives.
To be clear, various sports bodies have adopted trans-inclusion policies that allow trans women to compete as women without having gender-reassignment surgery. The International Olympic Committee, maybe the most powerful governing body in the world, made that very policy move almost three years ago. The NCAA has had such a policy since 2011.
After being challenged by numerous people on Twitter, including trans athlete Dr. Rachel McKinnon, Navratilova deleted the tweet and committed to listening and learning on the issue.
“Ok- I take it back,” she wrote. “Clearly I do t know what u [sic] am talking about. So once again- I will defer to Renee Richards as she certainly knows what she is talking about. I will find that tweet and delete it. All I want is fairness. Thank you.”
Richards is the pioneering trans tennis player who won a monumental court case in the late 1970s, which was the foundation for so many of today’s trans-inclusion policies. Richards has been a personal and professional friend of Navratilova for decades, at one point even serving as a coach for the tennis superstar.
Navratilova also said she will be digging into the issue more so she can speak from a place of education on the topic:
“I am sorry if I said anything anywhere near transphobic- certainly I meant no harm - I will educate myself better on this issue but meantime I will be quiet about it. Thank you”
I certainly believe Navratilova that she meant no harm. As I said previously, her track record fighting for human rights is stellar. She doesn’t just “have a trans friend”... one of her lifelong trans friends and colleagues is a legendary pioneer for trans inclusion in sports. Her intentions were good.
Yet outcome doesn’t always meet intentions. Certainly she did not mean to give fuel to anti-trans forces on the Right who aim to undermine decades of forward movement toward equality. And I don’t believe for a second she meant to upset or undermine trans athletes anywhere.
Unfortunately, that’s what she did. I’ve certainly made mistakes in the past, or spoken out of turn, and I’ve been grateful that people have given me a second chance to make things right.
It’s encouraging to see Navratilova say she will do some listening and learning to better understand the issue. That’s a great start, and the mark of someone who just wants to do the right thing.