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Sports inclusion in 2023 was a net loss for trans athletes

Governing bodies largely retreated in 2023, with signs that 2024 could be even worse.

Natalie Ryan fought for her right to play in women’s competition and won, at least through the 2025 season
DGPT

The month of December was a microcosm of the landscape regarding transgender inclusion in sports in 2023.

On December 22, pro disc golfer Natalie Ryan reached a settlement to compete with the Professional Disc Golf Association and the Disc Golf Pro Tour. They dropped their latest restrictions on transgender women as part of a settlement, reverting to their previous mandate of two years of HRT with a designated serum testosterone limit and no surgical requirement.

“All trans women will be equals at the elite level again,” Ryan said via Instagram. “This is my victory. I’m glad I can put that side of myself away. Now, I am hopeful that our sport can start fresh and grow to be a place that truly welcomes and celebrates everyone.”

Ryan’s news came in between a trans sports ban on school kids passing in Ohio and awaiting Governor Mike DeWine’s signature, and a partner in New Zealand’s conservative coalition government calling for the withholding of funds from community sports that allow transgender people to compete in the gender by which they identify.

One step forward and many more steps back.

Austin Killips’ win at the Tour of the Gila in May was a catalyst behind the UCI’s ban on trans women
Tour of the Gila

Governing Bodies: Going Backward

The world’s governing bodies continued a retreat from past inclusive policies.

World Athletics made this year’s first move. A ban on transgender women in women’s competition went into effect March 31 in a move World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said was inspired by World Aquatics, who put forth a similar regulation last year.

Union Cycliste Internationale followed suit in July, and the International Cricket Council last month. Each policy change was seemingly cynical, coming after the success of an individual athlete.

The UCI’s move came within weeks of American Austin Killips winning a sanctioned pro stage race. Meanwhile, cricketer Danielle McGahey was the first out transgender woman to compete in an ICC tournament as part of a Canada side that finished second in a regional qualifier in September.

“My international cricketing career is over,” McGahey said. “As quickly as it begun, it must now end. What matters is the message being sent to millions of trans women today, a message saying that we don’t belong.”

This has been the operative thought of the governing bodies, anti-trans advocates and anti-trans elected officials: Trans women in particular, and trans people in general, don’t belong.

Such seems to be the undercurrent, even with efforts such as “open” categories. World Aquatics offered such a division at a World Cup meet in Berlin in August, but there were no entries.

“This was never about fairness to the cis women in the FPO,” she said on her Instagram in July 2023, “but instead about a desire to remove trans women.”

Her remarks came after perhaps the most cynical move by any sports league, as the DGPT cancelled every tournament scheduled for an area where they could likely lose a court case.

The Legislative Fight

Currently, bans on trans student-athlete participation in their gender category are in effect in 23 states, with two more considering similar proposals in the upcoming legislative session.

Republican legislators are planning to introduce a similar bill on Capitol Hill. They are emboldened, in part, by the mixed messages sent by the Biden Administration in April.

The proposal put forth by the Biden Administration is said to prohibit schools, colleges and universities from outright bans on trans athletes. It also allows such prohibitions to be put in place under certain conditions.

“The new Biden Title IX trans sports regulations feel like a betrayal,” journalist and policy researcher Erin Reed stated via X when the policy was announced.

Last month, Florida’s law outed a transgender girl who played on a school sports team, and her county’s school board was hit with a $16,500 fine. Ohio’s pending measure also bans affirming health care that would make the sports issue moot.

Hope Amid Chaos

This year was a net loss for trans athletes, but not a total loss.

Among the people showing up and standing up were two 2023 Outsports Award winners.

Outsports Trans Athlete of 2023 Patricio Manuel got back in the ring after a four-year wait and won two fights in the space of three months. He also had a powerful performance outside of the ring to start the year.

The World Boxing Council began 2023 discussing a transgender division. Manuel called out the transphobia behind these discussions and called for his sport to consider regulations based on facts, not hysteria.

2023 Outsports Nonbinary Athlete of the Year Nikki Hiltz raced for the USATF 1-mile road national title on a warm April night through downtown Des Moines, Iowa in April, just a few miles from a state capital where anti-trans legislation was signed the previous month.

Their last charge to win, with pride flags flowing as they powered to the finish, was a touchstone for a local LGBTQ community under siege.

A year after a history-making soccer match with an all-trans women’s team for the first time, UK-based TRUK United FC did an encore for Trans Day of Visibility 2023. The first known all-trans men’s side in the game’s history would play in a match. The team lost the match, 8-1, but the players celebrated that single goal as if they had won the World Cup.

“If I were 13 and had been able to see a team of all trans men out there, I would have at least tried to stick at it and fought a bit more at my school,” the team’s captain Arthur Webber said. “I hope there will be other trans people watching this game and will stick at it.”

Earlier this month at the USA Cycling Cyclocross national championships, the second-ever nonbinary division national championship race took place, but not without a protest about the UCI’s policy change.

The second-place finisher in the event, Samuel Hansen — a race organizer and advocate — came to the championships with jerseys emblazoned with “TRANS WOMEN BELONG HERE”. Some of the competitors in races throughout the championship donned them as well.

Samuel Hansen (left) and the entire field for the USA Cycling cyclocross nonbinary national championship sent a message regarding the UCI’s ban on trans women.
https://www.instagram.com/gelbbrucke

“I really hoped that there was the indication of a shift to where we would grow as a more inclusive community,” Hansen stated. “We had some amazing women win some races. Then we had some less-than-amazing women cry about it because they are transphobes, and then we ended up here. It’s sad. It’s depressing.

There is an immense push for the NCAA, which delayed more stringent rules for a year, to push such regulation forward sooner.

There are also the 2024 elections. The GOP candidates for the White House have aggressively made trans rights, including trans athletes’ access to women’s sports, a hot-button issue in their early debates toward a contentious presidential campaign to come. This will intensify with key races that will determine control of the House and Senate as well.

During the hearings in Ohio earlier this month, Julie Day, trans woman, youth counselor and a captain of the Columbus Chaos women’s football team, told lawmakers, “People love to tell athletes to just ‘shut up and play ball.’ Please, let me shut up and play ball!”

Given the parameters and position of many standing for exclusion, such a plea may be impossible in 2024.