When England’s Rugby Football Union voted to ban transgender women from playing in the women’s game in June, the decision affected seven trans players, based on the RFU’s registration data.
One of those athletes intends to mount a legal challenge to that policy.
According to a pre-action protocol letter reported by the Daily Telegraph September 3, Julie Curtiss, a trans woman who returned to play at the community level last season, will challenge the new regulations claiming that they violate Section 7 of the UK’s Equality Act 2010.
“It is difficult to see how a blanket ban with no exceptions could be justified as necessary,” Curtiss stated in the pre-protocol letter. “Allowing a particular trans woman to play in the female category for contact rugby may not raise any issues in respect of fair competition or the safety of competitors, and if so her exclusion cannot be justified.”
Curtiss received a call of support by noted researcher Joanna Harper, who stated that she would testify in the case on Curtiss’ behalf.
“In a sport where there is already a substantial risk of injury, and especially given the small numbers of grassroots trans players, I would suggest that the safety risk to English cisgender rugby players is so small that it cannot justify the RFU ban,” Harper said to the Telegraph Tuesday. “That would be the reason why I would be willing to serve as an expert witness, if called upon.”
The RFU stated in June that the new regulations came from the results of a survey of players across all levels of the sport in line with a study by World Rugby in 2020. The world governing body recommended a ban on trans women at all level of the game later that year.
Initially the RFU opted for case-by-case assessment of transgender participants. In June, the organization pivoted to a ban.
“In light of the research findings and work of World Rugby and the UK Sports Councils, and given the difficulties in identifying a credible test to assess physiological variables, this is no longer a viable option at this time and does not necessarily ensure inclusion,” they said in a statement.
Harper, who was a part of the initial World Rugby working group of trans inclusion in 2020, has been critical of World Rugby’s process and the use of their data in building policy. She noted to Outsports after World Rugby’s first set of recommendations in December 2020, “I think they had their minds made up, before they called the meeting. It would have been nice to have seen a trans woman rugby player there, but I doubt it would have made any difference.”
In response to Curtiss’ pre-protocol letter, RFU officials termed the claim “without merit.” The final decision will hinge on whether the new policy is in line with Section 195, subsections 2 and 3 of the Equality Act, which states that the policy would not be seen as discriminatory if an event organizer can show that a trans woman would have advantage that is shown to be unfair.
The RFU has until September 30 to respond officially, but a spokesperson did tell BBC Sport that the governing body will “robustly defend the case.”
Supporters of Curtiss have also begun to coalesce and prepare with a crowdfunding effort to pay for the legal case. As of September 7, the effort has raised over 40 percent of the 5,000 pounds estimated as the cost of the litigation.