The renewed focus placed on the right of trans and intersex athletes’ to compete as their identified gender has been a hot topic in 2019, with Caster Semenya and Jay Cee Cooper taking center stage in that fight. But that battle isn’t limited to the world and national stage.
A recent example of the fight over trans inclusion in sports involves the effort to remove Olympian Inga Thompson from her position on the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association board of directors.
Thompson called the board spineless. Her opponents suggest this is an example of what happens when intransigent transphobia meets executive indecisiveness.
The first red flag was Thompson’s involvement with lobbying groups, like Save Women’s Sports, that promote transphobic false narratives under the guise of promoting women’s athletics. But her proposal to segregate trans women into their own division for OBRA-sanctioned races exacerbated matters.
Rachel Cameron, owner of Portland’s Killer Queen Cyclery repair shop, started a petition to have Thompson removed from the OBRA board of directors in October, garnering close to 500 signatures. “OBRA has a policy around transgender athletes and she was in direct violation of that policy,” Cameron told Outsports. “It also says in the code of conduct that the board needs to be upholding of the policies... These are our decision makers. We need them to uphold our policies.”
OBRA allows participants to race within their identified gender’s division without restriction except in the women’s Elite categories. Trans women are required to maintain a testosterone count of 10 nanomoles per liter, the same amount required by the IAAF and IOC, for one year in order to compete in the Elite divisions.
Cameron’s petition, along with a sizeable number of LGBTQ OBRA members calling for Thompson’s removal, forced the OBRA board to respond.
However, their response did not result in Thompson’s removal. OBRA announced the decision to retain Thompson on December 9, claiming that Thompson’s position on trans women’s right to compete alongside cis women “does not pose a conflict of interest with the organization’s rules, mission or statement of diversity.” The board further explained that “Inga’s experience as a pioneer in women’s cycling, including her personal experience of discrimination in sport, is an asset to the board.”
For trans racer Jackie Mautner, the board’s decision “signaled a tacit approval of her agenda to shut out trans athletes from competing in women’s race categories.” She added, “It seemed like the board of directors were quick to back her proposal without doing their homework first.”
“The weeks of inaction prior to the vote was a clear signal to the LGBTQ community that the OBRA leadership was unable to effectively manage the situation,” trans racer Molly Cameron told Outsports. “OBRA only appeared to grasp the situation for what it was, once the Willamette Week ran a story on Inga’s problematic statements and discriminatory lobbying activity.”
Thompson was quick to celebrate OBRA’s decision, telling cycling blog BikePortland that the board’s decision “validates her proposal,” adding, “They might not have liked the way I got there, but if no feelings get hurt, you have not had a true open discussion.”
Then the other shoe dropped.
OBRA reversed course three days later, announcing Thompson’s resignation from the board on December 12. According to the Willamette Week, other board members asked Thompson to resign not for her transphobic views and proposals, but rather for violating the confidentiality of the vote by speaking to BikePortland and sharing details on her personal Twitter account.
Via @wweek we learn that @IngaThompsonK was forced out after @ORBicycleRacing threatened to vote her out for violating terms of their confidentiality agreement in her interview with BikePortland and in tweets responding to our coverage https://t.co/13bJ5mfklB pic.twitter.com/hZh7XkjuZB— BikePortland (@BikePortland) December 13, 2019
Thompson responded via Twitter, saying she signed no confidentiality agreement and accusing the board of “dirty tricks.”
Some dirty tactics behind the scenes. I refuse to work with a board that has no spine.— Inga Thompson Fnd. (@ithompsonfdn) December 14, 2019
The decision also came amid the resignation of three more OBRA board members, leaving multiple positions vacant ahead of January’s OBRA board of directors elections.
Those calling for Thompson’s departure were relieved she was gone, but the reasons for it only added to their frustration with how OBRA handled the matter. “There was a missed opportunity for the board to send a clear message that would confirm their commitment to being inclusive of trans and non-binary racers,” Mautner told Outsports.
“OBRA’s handling of the situation has been non-action. While there may have been behind-the-scenes discussions between members of the OBRA leadership, OBRA has publicly dropped the ball on supporting a marginalized community and demonstrating their commitment to inclusivity and non-discrimination,” Cameron stated. “Instead of acknowledging and dealing with Inga’s initial public statements and call-to-action to segregate trans-people, the OBRA board appeared to wait for a technicality to take action and remove her from the board.”
The entire situation with Thompson highlights trans racers’ overall frustrations with OBRA’s policy on trans inclusion and diversity. “It took far too long for the OBRA board to define their position and take any action to demonstrate their commitment to inclusivity and non-discrimination,” said Cameron.
“If anything,” Cameron added, “OBRA demonstrated that they are not capable of effectively addressing and managing problematic personnel and situations. Removing Inga from the board was a reactive, not effective, course of action. Unfortunately it continues to fall upon members of minority and marginalized communities to educate and explain why certain speech and actions are problematic and how to effectively deal with them.”
Mautner hopes that the fallout from OBRA’s missteps “can jumpstart a larger dialogue” for “creating a more diverse and inclusive community within racing.”
“Moving through this could put OBRA in a position to not only uphold current policy protecting trans participation, but also push the envelope in terms of what inclusive policy and culture could look like, providing an example for larger organizations like USAC to potentially follow,” said Mautner.
For OBRA’s trans racers, that example hopefully involves revisiting the organization’s rules on trans participation. “I think that the current rules around trans participation are a good starting point, but like all rules could be revisited to make improvements and still ensure that they set the standards for what is considered fair competition,” Mautner said. “I do not hear trans voices calling for a separate ‘trans only’ racing category. I hear trans voices calling for acceptance, for privacy and for respect,” Cameron said.