The coverage of transgender athletes often tilts towards the cruel barriers they face just in order to play sports like everybody else. But on this Trans Awareness Week, we are going to highlight the positive. All over the world, there are trans athletes who are shining as their true selves.
We’ve been fortunate to tell their stories on Outsports over the years.
The research on trans participation in sports highlights the immense challenges that exist. According to a 2018 report from the Human Rights Campaign, 82 percent of teenage transgender athletes are not out to their coaches. There are legal challenges and taunts, and those who succeed at the highest levels — Mack Beggs, Terry Miller, Andraya Yearwood — are stuck fending off all sorts of attacks on their humanity.
Right now, Lindsay Hecox, a trans runner who attends Boise State University, is serving as the lead plaintiff in the case against Idaho’s recently passed anti-trans legislation (a federal judge placed a preliminary injunction against the law).
It’s worth noting, however, the loudest opposition against trans inclusion in sports often doesn’t come from athletes and coaches, but rather anti-trans groups and grandstanding politicians.
A recent example is the pushback against World Rugby’s proposed trans ban. The organization consulted various anti-inclusion advocates, including “Fair Play for Women” founder Dr. Nicola Williams. Former Rugby player Caroline Layt, who transitioned in 1995, told Outsports that World Rugby didn’t consult any transgender women involved in the sport when drafting its proposal.
But the pushback has been swift.
Ever since the proposed ban was reported, rugby players and officials all over the world expressed their strong opposition. In September, USA Rugby and Rugby Canada both stated its disagreement with the proposal. USA Rugby, in fact, said it would ignore the policy outright.
A worldwide petition against the proposal has garnered over 18,300 signatures, and more than 80 academics in sport and professional health have signed a letter critical of the measure.
Throughout the summer, we profiled trans rugby players who professed their love of the sport, and how it’s served as one of their comforts. I had the pleasure of interviewing Isabella Macbeth, who says playing for a female rugby club in South Carolina helped her get through the most difficult moments of her transition.
“You’re literally family to them,” she said.
Sports serve as an anchor for so many young trans people. When college equestrian rider Jay Robinson came out, he says his teammates and coaches instantly embraced him. But his parents took longer to come along. During those trying times, he says the barn was the “one place” he found solace.
Trans college swimmer Natalie Fahey says her coach at Southern Illinois University served as one of her biggest sources of inspiration, and persuaded her to keep swimming while she started transitioning.
“We recruited you as a person. If this is who you are, then we will welcome you,” Rick Walker told her.
There remains a dearth of trans visibility in athletics, even in comparison to other members of our community. But that’s beginning to change, with each inspiring coming out story.
We are seeing more publicly out trans athletes compete on the biggest stages. Two years ago, trailblazing trans hockey player Harrison Browne won his second championship in the National Women’s Hockey League.
Earlier this year, triathlete Chris Mosier became the first transgender man to ever compete in an Olympic trial alongside other men. He shared his message of inspiration with more than 33,000 followers on Instagram.
That kind of reach is consequential. Normalization comes from visibility. The more people see trans athletes, the more inclusive sports will become.
Young trans athletes are pushing for inclusion in communities across the country. Just last week, contributor Karleigh Webb, who’s also a proud trans athlete, told the story teenager Bobby Jones. The trans boy is the goalkeeper for his local youth team in the Seattle area, and successfully campaigned to change the policies of his league so he could keep playing.
Jones’ team and community — including former Seattle Sounders captain Brad Evans — supported him, even starting the #LetBobbyPlay hashtag. It’s another story of where policy, and not people, stood in the way of inclusion.
Back in 2013, Ryan Socolow came out as trans to the women’s lacrosse team at Endicott College, a small school in suburban Massachusetts. While he says the school was “woefully underprepared” for a trans student, he found acceptance from his teammates and coaches.
“My teammates, a sisterhood, quickly welcomed a brother into their family,” he wrote.
Jenna Weiner, who came out as trans in 2016 as she was starting graduate school at the University of Nevada, was embraced on both the men’s and women’s ultimate frisbee teams. She played with the men before physically transitioning, and then with the women afterwards.
After completing her transition, she started to play on a local mixed-gender team. “I’m now just seen as one of the girls on the team and I feel extremely comfortable both with myself and with my team and my community,” she wrote.
There are inspiring trans athletes on local golf courses like Jamie O’Neill and running trails like Jeffrey Rubel. Each of them say the transformation into their true identities changed their lives — and athletics were a big part of their journeys.
There is still an immense amount of work to be done in court rooms and the public arena. But on the ground, trans inclusion in sports is happening every day. It is happening on high school fields, college campuses and at the Olympic level.
It would not be possible without brave trans athletes and their supportive teammates and coaches. Those are stories we’re proud to tell, and this is the week to celebrate them.