The resurgence of roller derby in the last decade has not only provided a boost for women’s sports In North America and Europe, it's also set an example of a strong inclusionary ethic. Teams across the country and across the Atlantic have fostered a welcome atmosphere for trans and non-binary competitors.
That inclusion became a target last week by those who behind the scourge of anti-transgender rhetoric in both the United States and United Kingdom. But their attack was met with a stern rebuke from roller derby teams from Los Angeles to London.
The latest salvo came from the UK-based anti-trans lobbying group Fair Play For Women in the form of a September 26 article on their website by British feminist writer and critic Emma Chesworth. She pointedly criticized the inclusive policies of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) and the UK Roller Derby Association (UKRDA).
Chesworth says: “A loud and proud all female sport. Roller derby has become a sport for ‘self identifying’ women. Effectively, it is no longer an exclusively female sport.”
The article also quotes two Canadian former roller derby athletes who both said they left the sports because of the “danger” of playing against “men in female sports teams” and “It’s a terrible injustice that I have seen girls quit roller derby because of men infiltrating our ranks.”
The article was quoted in an article on Breitbart on October 1, which echoed similar sentiments.
“We live in a time where folks have become emboldened to express racism, discrimination, and marginalization through so-called journalism or other public discourse,” WFTDA Executive Director Erica Vanstone told Outsports in response to the article. “As a human who lives in the United States, I see propaganda-masquerading-as-journalism quite often--so, sadly, this piece was not surprising to me.”
However, the initial article met a staunch wave of skaters and teams in the U.S., Canada and the UK. Loud and proud, roller derby participants and fans sent a fast, harsh, and decisive message supporting the inclusion in their sport via Twitter.
Keep our sport out of your damn mouth. Your opinion is unwanted, ignorant, and will not change how WE build OUR sport. Trans skaters are welcome. Daft twits like you are not. pic.twitter.com/Yc7HiVQYEC— meg fenway (@megfenway) September 25, 2019
Trans women have been welcomed by the roller derby community since the 70s. Funny, it's never been a problem.— Quintessa K ️ (@MetalPirateGurl) September 26, 2019
Trans, non-binary and gender noncomforming skaters and athletes are valid and welcome in roller derby, and at Gotham.— Gotham Girls Roller Derby (@gothamderby) September 25, 2019
We’re furious to see an image of our skaters being used to spread hate — help us out by not giving them any more publicity with a retweet. ❤️
“I was floored, but not surprised by the outpouring from both individual skaters and formal league accounts to swiftly and unequivocally state that the words of that article do not represent who we are as a community,” Gotham Girls Roller Derby Vice President Marcy Langstein said. “Trans, non-binary, and gender nonconforming skaters belong in our league, in roller derby and in the WFTDA.”
Langstein, a.k.a. “Whiskey Lullabye”, is a derby “lifer” in a sense. She grew in the sport as a player, coach and now Vice President of the New York-based Gotham Girls. She saw the article as an insult to league in its words and actions. The article used photos of the Gotham Girls in action without authorization, and the league reportedly took immediate steps toward action against Chesworth.
“It was critical to shut that down immediately to ensure our league name,” Langstein said. “The images of our skaters would not appear alongside hateful and harmful rhetoric.”
+1. I run PR for Gotham and want to know how you secured permission for the image.— Alex Berg (@itsalexberg) September 26, 2019
Also, @DNVRRollerDerby (hi!) any chance you know which photog took the pic? Happy to reach out — as a real journalist, I deal with photo and legal clearances so happy to lend a hand.
The photos were eventually pulled from the article. The transphobic rhetoric and tone are still making their way across the internet, but not without opposition that was widespread of derby faithful who’s sport has a growing following. “Reading this type of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in the article just sounds like someone who had her idea of feminism challenged but didn’t learn anything,” Vanstone said. “It’s always disappointing to realize there are people who use fear and ignorance to drive their experiences. It’s my job to help folks attacked by these types of posts to feel validated, seen, and supported.”
Langstein agreed, saying inclusion within the sport was built through a lot work and most be protected and expanded.
“We have come to our value structures through honest conversations with the folks most affected by transphobia and bigotry in our sport,” she said. “It’s not my voice and experience that shapes these conversations on change; It’s those like me shutting up and making space and prioritizing and listening to the experiences of trans women, non-binary and gender expansive individuals, and moving forward, stalwart in the belief that if you believe that you belong here, we will be here to welcome you.”