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Cracking the code of bias against transgender athletes

A peek at the transphobe’s playbook.

June Eastwood is a runner and transgender
The anti-trans playbook openly demonizes athletes like distance runner June Eastwood (above) to sell a larger narrative that goes beyond sports
University of Montana

Transgender participation in sport has come to the forefront in the last few years at all levels, from youth leagues to the Olympics. And that’s led to backlash from many groups and individuals who are supported by and stand up for those who have always maintained an anti-LGBTQ position.

On November 20, Outsports contributor Ken Schultz looked into what’s behind a recent poll by Rasmussen, which concluded a majority of Americans oppose transgender inclusion in sports.

What he found were polling methods and loaded questions with terms that slant toward creating results opposing trans inclusion.

In his analysis, Schultz stated: “In order to move the debate in that more inclusive direction, we need to educate the public on these kinds of biased euphemisms and anti-trans code words that transphobes use to sway public opinion.”

As a sports journalist, a sports fan and as a participating transgender athlete, I couldn’t agree more with my Outsports colleague. When you look in the transphobe’s playbook, you find a number of varied tactics designed to make bigotry look reasonable.

My examination here will look at a recent piece of propaganda making the rounds and the tactics it employs. The poster below was created by an operative for an anti-trans organization.

Recent anti-trans athlete poster
Hands Across The Aisle Women

THE PLAYBOOK

1. Immediately sell the point that trans women are not women.

Willful, deliberate misgendering is a critical piece of this con game. The quote used at the top of this image is an example of the conditioning. It’s also the tactic of websites such as Breitbart, The Blaze and RedState, who ruthlessly target transgender female athletes. Consider the example of cyclist Dr. Veronica McKinnon, who is one of the most targeted trans athletes in the world right now, ever since winning her first UCI Masters track cycling championship in 2018. She had barely reached the winner’s podium when the “clickbaiter” sites screamed headlines such as “Man Pedals Faster at the Women’s World Cycling Championships”, and “Transgender female cyclist place first against biological women”

The body copy of their articles stays with this theme. There is consistent use of terms such as “biological males” and “biological females”, which is passive-aggressive misgendering. Some sites don’t even bother with such backhanded attempts, and neither do the professional political transphobe groups. In the Alliance Defending Freedom’s complaint to the Department of Education concerning Connecticut high school athletes Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller, the 29-page document consistently refers to both girls as “boys” and “biological males”.

2. Notice whom they do NOT discuss.

Patricio Manuel, transgender boxer, Everlast, commercial, queer, LGBTQ
Transgender male athletes aren’t good targets.
Everlast

You will rarely if ever see attacks directed at Patricio Manuel (above), or at Chris Mosier, or any transgender male athletes with this piece of propaganda, or any piece by the anti-trans lobby. This is by design. Transgender male athletes don’t sell the narrative that transphobes are trying to sell. This is about more than sport to the anti-lgbtq and anti-human rights lobby. It also shows the misogyny of the people who are “behind the curtain”. The main message here is transgender women are not women and cisgender women are too inept to compete successfully in sport.

3. They will not tell you the full story.

Lies of omission are a centerpiece tactic of the anti-trans crowd. The most used is the matter of regulations. They intensely try to sell the idea that “men wake up one morning, say they are a woman and play women’s sports”. Yet they know that there are extensive rules and regulations that transgender athletes must follow to the letter, like every athlete.

For example, consider the case of Southern Illinois swimmer Natalie Fahey. Below is the NCAA regulation that applies to her case.

A trans female (MTF) student-athlete being treated with testosterone suppression medication for Gender Identity Disorder or gender dysphoria and/or Transsexualism, for the purposes of NCAA competition may continue to compete on a men’s team but may not compete on a women’s team without changing it to a mixed team status until completing one calendar year of testosterone suppression treatment.

There are also lies of omission in terms of context and backstory. Fahey continued to compete during that interim year on the men’s team at SIU. When she met the NCAA’s regulations and began competing as a woman, she was entered as an “exhibition swimmer” and her finishes did not count in the overall team standings at the conference championship meet because of the timing when she became eligible to compete. This is the crucial context that the anti-trans lobby will ignore because it wrecks the narrative they are trying to sell.

One can also look the case of an athlete such as 2019 Division II national 400 meter hurdles champion CeCé Telfer, who took a year off from competition while starting hormone replacement therapy and then returned to active competition after fulfilling the NCAA requirements. Again, this is what the other side won’t tell you.

4. The “Alternative Facts” (a.k.a. lies)

At times, the other side will just flat-out lie.

How New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is portrayed here is a textbook example. The propaganda here and in other places is that she is a “world champion”. She has never won a world championship. At the 2017 world weightlifting championships she won two silver medals. The anti-trans crowd relies upon the fact that most readers and/or sports fans will not bother to check the facts for themselves, in part, because the sport is more obscure. Keep that in mind as we consider:

5. The anti-LGBTQ lobby will pick anything, no matter how obscure, to try to make their point.

Consider how roller derby athletes are mentioned in this piece above. They are attacking perhaps the most trans-inclusive sport in the world. Noted TERF writer Emma Chesworth recently learned that this is not a good idea, when she wrote an article critical of widespread policies of inclusion in roller derby. Teams and leagues in the US and UK lit up Twitter in a vigorous defense of their sport.

Fact checking would have perhaps saved Chesworth some embarrassment, but that’s the rub here. A transphobe counts on the general public to not research the claims for themselves.

Notice also that most of the targets pictured on the anti-trans poster come from sports that are out of the mainstream. This type of propaganda also tends to focus on small college and high school athletes because it is easier to bend a story fewer people actively know about.

6. Who’s behind the curtain, and who’s behind them?

The propaganda poster here was built by an operative representing Hand Across The Aisle Women. They characterize themselves as “radical feminists, lesbians, Christians and conservatives that are tabling our ideological differences to stand in solidarity against gender identity legislation”.

But they are allied with groups including the Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Council, and the Alliance Defending Freedom. These are among most influential anti-women’s rights and anti-LGBTQ lobbies in the world. Both the FRC and the ADF are also classified as “anti-LGBTQ hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Scratch the surface of many of these “radical feminists” and you are finding greater synergies with groups that have made their name by demonizing feminism for decades, and the media mouthpieces like a Breitbart or the Blaze.

Why does this matter? Because this isn’t only about sports, just like the headline-making battles in Houston, Texas and North Carolina were not only about bathrooms, and the anti-LGBTQ lobby does not deny this.

This is one of the few fronts they are fighting in a larger battle that legally and culturally they are losing, and they admit to it. They’ve even admitted that the bathroom hysteria was deliberately built to scare people, even though the stats don’t fit the hysteria.

Such is the fulcrum lifting three cases pending in the U.S. Supreme Court right now that could redefine a whole spectrum of human rights issues for all LGBTQ citizens.

The real match here is inclusion versus erasure, and it's a match we transgender Americans cannot afford to lose.