Emily Bridges — the elite British cyclist who is trans and fighting to compete in the female category — told her story in an interview with ITV News Tuesday, after months of controversy on her status in elite cycling.
In the 20-minute television interview with ITV sports reporter Steve Scott, Bridges resolutely answered her critics who stated that the transgender woman should not be allowed to compete in events alongside cisgender women.
She made a pointed statement on the abuse she has taken since she announced her transition, and how such targeting intensified after Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose government left transgender people out of protections against conversion therapy, said in an on-camera interview “I don’t think ‘biological males’ should be competing in female sporting events.”
“The response after that was as expected, I had threats of physical violence made against me by complete strangers online,” Bridges stated in the interview. “I’m scared a lot of the time about being who I am in public. Is someone going to recognise me? They were real concerns and it was a real fear that I had after the comments were made, and it was scary. I was scared.”
She also poked at Johnson directly, just a day after the embattled PM survived a no-confidence vote by Conservative Party MPs.
“It’s really strange to see probably the most famous man in Britain talking about you and having an opinion on something that he doesn’t know anything about,” she stated.
Bridges also discussed the main contention of many across the British mass media and across the internet: the questions at the intersections of regulation, inclusion, and fairness. Such questions were in sharp focus as the Union Cycliste Internationale and British Cycling suspended her participation in the UK National Omnium Championships in April, just weeks after she was confirmed eligible to compete by standing UCI and British Cycling regulations.
The championships were to be her first women’s event and an opportunity to qualify to represent her native Wales in the Commonwealth Games later this year. She expressed frustration with how the situation was handled and the lack of communication over a potential revised policy that has yet to be announced.
According to Bridges, British Cycling had stated in email communication to her that she would be a part of making a revised policy, but she said in the interview that she’s received no further word from the governing body.
“It’s untenable,” she fumed. “There are multiple athletes in the UK who just don’t know what to do because there is no policy. We don’t know what we are working towards. This is complete limbo.
“This just doesn’t affect me, This affects other people. It’s so unfair to not have anything.”
The word “fair” was a theme throughout the interview. The contention that Bridges being in a women’s field is “unfair” was discussed repeatedly. In response, she noted the data and analysis gathered by her and further analysed as part of a far-reaching research study on transgender people and athletic performance being done by Loundsborough University.
Bridges was asked about, and responded to, accusations in certain corners that the testing on her was staged to gain a certain result.
“They obviously have never seen an elite athlete who gets the most of themselves,” she challenged. “I’d invite them to come watch me doing the research, watch them physically cut me open and take muscle from me to store and look under a microscope to investigate the changes, to watch me take a VO2 max test to see how hard I go.”
Since the interview, opinions have blazed across British press and all over social media, especially coming off a weekend where Bridges competed in a ThunderCrit event in London where the divisions are all-inclusive. Performance metrics from cisgender men and cisgender women are used to set the divisions. Bridges won a “lightning division” event were the eligibility set based on all riders who come closest to performance by cis women (including cis women themselves).
News outlets, such as consistently anti-trans Daily Mail, made Bridges’ victory an issue. One of the more prominent anti-inclusion voices the newspaper cited was three-time British Olympian, 1980 Olympic swimming medal winner and former BBC sport presenter Sharron Davies, who said to the Daily Mail and on her own social media that Bridges is “not female.”
Olympian Sharron Davies slams trans cyclist as 'NOT female' https://t.co/p6jsZUuJB9— Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline) June 8, 2022
This came after the newspaper chided the event Bridges won, and then got stern rebuke from the organizers of the race.
They also got one from the competitor who finished third.
Jo Smith, a cisgender woman whom the Daily Mail championed as a woman competitor who was “trounced” by the transgender women, clapped back against those attacking Bridges and second-place finisher Lilly Chant.
To everyone messaging about my podium placing at thundercrit yesterday, thanks for your concern, but I am delighted with my podium, super proud to be part of the team that organizes such an inclusive and exciting event, and proud to race with such awesome competitors.— Jo Smith (@jo7smith) June 4, 2022
For all those who care so deeply about the future of women’s cycling, please direct your energy to lobbying for better tv coverage, pay and race opportunities in the women’s pro peloton, rather than a gender neutral race. 2/2— Jo Smith (@jo7smith) June 4, 2022
Bridges also had a response in the interview. In a sense, it was an olive branch.
“I empathize with why you feel potentially threatened by my inclusion,” she said. You might feel like the patriarchal structures that govern cycling and society in general. It’s another thing that’s being pushed on you and it’s another thing you’ve got to fight against.
“But those same structures those same attitudes are the same things that pushed me down, pushed me into the closet, that I couldn’t be myself. So, I would ask if you can empathize with me, because I can empathize with you?”