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Changing minds by engaging kids early

Athlete Ally takes inclusive message to schools

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Athlete Ally, gay news, Washington Blade, LGBT youth
Athlete Ally, gay news, Washington Blade, LGBT youth

Kyra McClary and Sam Song have reaped the rewards of LGBT sensibility training in sports. These Team D.C. scholarship winners say coming out to their teammates was not a problem. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Track and Field runner Joanna Harper loves the rush competition brings her.

Her years on the field have taught her all about discipline, competition and hard work. However, her hard work hasn’t just been about pushing her physicality to the limit because Harper is not only an athlete but also a transgender woman.

Harper, along with other trans athletes, has faced opposition from others in her sport because she is trans. She transitioned later in life, in 2004, and was competing with other adults. These adults, she says, had a mindset against transgender athletes competing in sports that would be hard to change even if they were trained on the issue.

“There are some deeply held prejudices against transgender women,” Harper says. “Training isn’t necessarily going to change those prejudices.”

Former NCAA wrestler Hudson Taylor is trying to remake attitudes toward LGBT athletes in sports with his non-profit organization, Athlete Ally. The organization educates athletic communities on LGBT issues in sports and builds public awareness through its professional athlete ambassadors who work to advocate for the message. Taylor and other campus ambassadors travel to elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and colleges all over the country to educate on LGBT issues in sports.

Athlete Ally’s mission is aimed specifically at younger people with ambassadors giving talks to students as young as kindergarten. He says prejudices are taught at a young age and become ingrained in sports culture.

“If we’re looking at the solution in sports, the only way that we’re going to break the cycle is if we start at the very beginning,” Taylor says. “I think by educating athletes and coaches early we can hopefully be proactive and prevent some of the socialized homophobia that is a by-product of sport at an early age.”

Taylor, who served as guest editor of this special Blade sports edition, admits that explaining LGBT equality to young children is a different message than it would be talking to a college sports team. But he says the core of the message is still the same.

“There is an underlying principal of treat others as you want to be treated and don’t use hurtful demeaning language,” Taylor says. “It’s an important lesson not only for a kindergartener but even for a professional athlete.”

Taylor says that more often than not, Athlete Ally is the first LGBT sensitivity training a person has received. He says people are coming out at younger ages than ever before. LGBT people are coming out more frequently in high school and before instead of in adulthood. Taylor says that means more people have a personal connection to someone being LGBT. Despite that, athletic departments and LGBT centers on campus do not work together in the way they should, he says.

Taylor says that disconnect between athletic departments and LGBT centers is one of the reasons sports are still behind in LGBT equality.

Being both out and on a sports team is more common at a younger age than it ever has been before. Two 2015 Team D.C. Scholarship winners, Kyra McClary and Sam Song, are both out and say they haven’t encountered any issues over their sexual identity. Song is a swimmer who graduated from Poolesville High School and just completed his first year at St. Lawrence University. He says that when he came out to his team, it wasn’t a big deal.

“They were cool with it,” Song says. “It was no cause for huge panic or anything. They said, ‘That’s totally cool. It doesn’t affect the fact that you are part of the team and that what you do is important.’”

McClary says she had a similar experience.

“I think they’d all guessed,” McClary says. “We go to a really liberal school. Everyone is just like you, so no one really cares.”

McClary and Song also say their schools did not offer LGBT sensitivity training for athletes and coaches.

Still, Song thinks that having an LGBT sensitivity training course for coaches and athletes in schools would still be beneficial because of how sports culture is structured, especially when it comes to homophobic language.

“Homophobic comments are tossed around the locker room often,” Song says. “If people were at least exposed to this and were told to take it seriously and to be aware of the connotations of derogatory homophobic language, then they would be aware of what the word actually means and its not something meant to be taken lightly. It’s not meant to be used to describe an LGBT person as weak.”

Location may also have a lot to do with the need for LGBT sensitivity training in sports. McClary says she doesn’t see a real need for it in her situation because she has no plans to move to a conservative area.

“I’m planning to live in the North, “McClary says. “If I were going to live in Mississippi or something, then I would be worried.”

Athlete Ally has worked with schools in the South but Taylor says working with conservative southern schools has been more difficult.

“There are more obstacles to entry,” Taylor says. “I spent a week speaking at high schools and middle schools in Florida and a bunch of schools required every one of the kids to have their parents sign off on having me come and speak. Schools are making it a lot harder for kids to receive this message.”

It’s a message Taylor thinks is the starting point to healing other problems and fears in the country. He says that athletics have such an admired status in schools that it’s a great place to start the conversation of tolerance for not only LGBT equality but also moving toward ending sexism, racism and ableism as well.

“You go to any high school and middle school in the country and the hallways are not lined with academic trophies but athletic trophies,” Taylor says. “If we can educate our athletic population on how to be better citizens and people, how to be kind to one another, I think the ripple effect will be profound.”

Children learning these lessons and taking it with them as they grow older is a goal that Harper can get behind.

“Realistically anytime somebody is different, they’re going to stand out and they’re going to be picked on by other kids,” Harper says. “But the younger one can start with sensitivity training, the better life will be.”

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1 Comment

  1. Marion Deleon

    August 25, 2015 at 12:36 am

    Great coverage over a drive to bring awareness early into institutions for LGBT equality in citizenship.

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Sports

Formula One racing star wears LGBTQ Pride helmet at Qatar Grand Prix

“It’s down to whether you decide to educate yourself, hold the sport more accountable and make sure the sport is actually doing something”

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Lewis Hamilton Formula One helmet design via Hamilton's Twitter

DOHA, Qatar – Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team’s seven time Grand Prix champion driver Lewis Hamilton won in the inaugural run of the Qatar Grand Prix Formula One race Sunday.

That was not the only significant event that the 36-year-old race car driver participated in during his Qatar stay as prior to the race, Hamilton had shown support for the LGBTQ+ community during a practice session on Friday, wearing a a helmet featuring the Pride Progress Flag, a redesigned and more inclusive version of the traditional rainbow flag, and emblazoned with the words “We Stand Together.”

The flag features additional black and brown stripes to highlight the oppression of people of color, as well as pink and blue stripes for the trans flag and a purple circle on a yellow background, which is the intersex flag.

On his personal Twitter account the Formula One racer tweeted pictures of his helmet, which he wore at the end of Trans Awareness Week and this weekend which marks the International Transgender Day of Remembrance on Saturday.

Hamilton had received a knighthood from the British monarch Queen Elizabeth II in December a year ago for his human rights and advocacy work with his private charity, The Hamilton Commission, which the Stevenage, Hertfordshire, UK native set-up to simultaneously address the underrepresentation of Black people in UK motorsport, as well as the STEM sector.

The queen’s honors are awarded twice a year, in late December and in June, when the monarch’s birthday is observed. The awards acknowledge hundreds of people for services to community or British national life. Recipients are selected by committees of civil servants from nominations made by the government and the public.

In an interview with the Guardian, Hamilton said that he believes “sportspeople are duty bound to speak out on human rights matters in the countries they visit. With Qatar hosting its first Formula One Grand Prix this weekend and facing new allegations of worker exploitation and abuse in its preparations for next year’s football World Cup, Hamilton insisted he would hold the sport to account for the places it chooses to race.

Prior to the debut of the Qatar Formula One race and with the 2022 FIFA World Cup matches slated for 2022 in Qatar, focus once more fell on human rights issues. The Guardian reported that workers within the state have claimed that reforms to the country’s restrictive kafala labour sponsorship system have been ineffective while human rights groups continue to highlight oppressive male guardianship policies as well as discriminatory laws against women and LGBTQ+ individuals.

Lewis Hamilton 2016 Malaysia Grand Prix
(Photo by Morio)

“We’re aware there are issues in these places that we’re going to,” Hamilton told the Guardian. “But of course [Qatar] seems to be deemed as one of the worst in this part of the world. As sports go to these places, they are duty bound to raise awareness for these issues. These places need scrutiny. Equal rights is a serious issue.”

He added: “If we are coming to these places, we need to be raising the profile of the situation. One person can only make a certain amount of small difference but collectively we can have a bigger impact. Do I wish that more sportsmen and women spoke out on these issues? Yes.

“It’s down to whether you decide to educate yourself and hold the sport more accountable and make sure the sport is actually doing something when they go to those places.”

CNN reported that British intersex activist and columnist Valentino Vecchietti finalized the version seen on Hamilton’s helmet, which includes the intersex flag. “It means everything,” Vecchietti told CNN. “I can’t express what an amazing, massive, massive thing Lewis Hamilton has done. And I feel emotional talking about it, because we are so hidden and stigmatized as a population.”

The Pride Progress flag by Valentino Vecchietti to include representation for the intersex community.
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Sports

International Olympic Committee issues new “Framework On Fairness” for inclusion of Trans Athletes

The International Olympic Committee announced new guidance allowing “every person” to participate & abandons testosterone levels as criteria

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International Olympic Committee Headquarters (Photo by Greg Martin; courtesy IOC)

LAUSANNE, Switzerland – Following the first Olympic Games in which transgender athletes not only competed but made history by winning a gold medal, the International Olympic Committee stunned the world of sport Tuesday by not revising the criteria focused on testosterone, as expected, but moving away from it altogether. 

The IOC announced its new Framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations in a Zoom meeting hosted in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The leaders said they consulted with 250 athletes and “concerned stakeholders” including medical and legal experts over two years, and determined “every person has the right to practice sport without discrimination and in a way that respects their health, safety and dignity.” While stressing that competitive sports “relies on a level playing field,” the IOC tacitly acknowledged the complaints of trans-exclusionary cisgender women athletes by stating support for “the central role that eligibility criteria play in ensuring fairness, particularly in high-level organized sport in the women’s category.”

GLAAD heralded the announcement as making it clear that “no athlete has an inherent advantage over another due to their gender identity, sex variations, or appearance.” 

“This is a victory for all athletes and fans, who know the power and potential of sports to bring people together and make us all stronger,” said Alex Schmider of GLAAD. “Sports are for everyone, and fairness in sports means inclusion, belonging and safety for all who want to participate, including transgender, intersex, and nonbinary athletes.”

What the IOC didn’t do was issue new criteria for testosterone levels and did not define who is or isn’t a woman, and for the first time in modern Olympic history, is walking away from its “one size fits all” guidance. It’ll be left up to each sport and governing body to determine who is eligible to compete. The IOC guidance is that the criteria should respect internationally recognized human rights, rely on robust scientific evidence as well as athlete consultation, and that “precautions be taken to avoid causing harm to the health and well-being of athletes.” 

Although intended to guide elite athletes, the committee suggested all levels of sport, even recreational and grassroots sport, respect inclusion and non-discrimination policies.

Here are the 10 principles outlined by the IOC to to welcome all athletes at every level of participation, centered on the values of inclusion, prevention of harm and non-discrimination.

1. Inclusion 

2. Prevention of Harm

3. Non-discrimination

4. Fairness

5. No presumption of Advantage

6. Evidence-based Approach

7. Primacy of Health and Bodily Autonomy

8. Stakeholder-Centered Approach

9. Right to Privacy

10. Periodic Reviews

Athlete Ally was one of the agencies consulted by the IOC in determining this framework. “We hope to continue working closely with the IOC to ensure that the policies and practices governing sport actually include and represent the diversity of people playing sport,” said Anne Lieberman, Director of Policy and Programs at Athlete Ally. 

“Far too often, sport policy does not reflect the lived experience of marginalized athletes, and that’s especially true when it comes to transgender athletes and athletes with sex variations,” said Quinn of Canada’s Olympic Soccer team and the world’s first trans nonbinary gold medalist. “This new IOC framework is groundbreaking in the way that it reflects what we know to be true — that athletes like me and my peers participate in sports without any inherent advantage, and that our humanity deserves to be respected.”  

“I think that the IOC has made a powerful statement in favor of transgender inclusion, but I think that items 5 and 6 in their framework are problematic,” said Joanna Harper, the visiting fellow for transgender athletic performance at Loughborough University in the U.K. and a former IOC consultant. 

“On average, transgender women are taller, bigger and stronger than cisgender women and these are advantages in many sports,” Harper told the Los Angeles Blade. “It is also unreasonable to ask sporting federations to have robust, peer-reviewed research prior to placing any restrictions on transgender athletes in elite sports. Such research is years or maybe decades away from completion. I do think that recreational sports should allow unrestricted inclusion of trans athletes.” 

As San Francisco-based trans journalist Ina Fried noted in Axios, the IOC said that sex testing, genital inspections and other medical procedures to determine gender put all athletes at risk of harm and abuse, not just trans, intersex and nonbinary athletes. But the bottom line, Fried wrote, is that this new framework isn’t legally binding on any sports governing bodies, which now have carte blanche to write their own rules for eligibility.

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Proud to be a Fury

New film a touching tribute to the history of women’s rugby

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(Photo courtesy of Coleen McCloskey)

The last time that the Blade checked in with DC Furies player Liz Linstrom, she mentioned that she would always contribute to the club even if injuries sidelined her ability to play.

That statement proved to be prophetic as Linstrom experienced her third ACL tear while in the beginnings of filming a documentary about the Furies.

Linstrom had created a short documentary on women’s rugby and femininity as an undergraduate student at William & Mary and the itch was still there to produce more creative work.

Even though she was working three jobs and playing with the Furies, she felt she had enough work flexibility to pitch a documentary to the club in the fall of 2019.

The original idea was a past, present, and future look at women’s rugby in the United States through the lens of the players. 

Established in 1978, the Furies quickly developed into a highly competitive club, and they are currently competing in the Mid-Atlantic Rugby Union and the Capital Geographic Union, with both Division 1 and Division 3 teams.

In March of 2020, the Furies were ramping up to host their 40th annual Ruggerfest tournament, one of the largest all-women’s rugby tournaments in the United States with brackets including high school, college, social, and competitive clubs.

Then the unexpected happened.

“COVID hit, the tournament was cancelled, and filming of the documentary came to an abrupt stop,” says Linstrom. “The story shifted to the resilience of women and club sports in a way that professional and semi-professional sports teams can’t relate.”

The resulting film, “Furious,” is a touching tribute to the history of women’s rugby, women’s rights, the Furies, tradition, family, and maneuvering through COVID.

Four gay women are central figures in the film with one being married and another nonbinary. The players share what women’s rugby was like in the 1970s.

“The beginnings of women’s rugby in the United States coincided with Title IX in 1972. As a sport in its early beginnings, teams couldn’t afford to push people away. If you wanted to hit someone, you were on the team,” Linstrom says. “By the 1990s, the women’s rugby community was advocating for LGBTQ rights and the Furies had Candace Gingrich as a long-time player. Eighty percent of the team were lesbians.”

Other aspects of women’s rugby that are brought to light are the camaraderie, commitment, sense of family, and the queer elements of the community.

One Fury player breaks her nose 20 minutes into a match, shoves a tampon up her nose, and goes back in as a blood substitution. Another player breaks her wrist and carpools five hours the next day to North Carolina to support her team during a game.

Toward the end of the film, Linstrom addresses the impact of COVID on a club team such as the Furies. Some are concerned about coming back to play and wonder whether the excitement will still be there. Others think about trying to replace the players who are leaving the D.C. area.

“Nothing will keep us from getting together. We are not pro athletes, but the highest levels of women’s rugby in the United States is still club teams,” says Linstrom. “The legacy of the club is very important to all of us. Every time we step onto the pitch, we are standing on the shoulders of the players who came before us. They are our founding bricks.”

“Furious” premiered online in September for family, friends, and Furies players with viewership in 15 states. Linstrom funded the project as producer and director along with a grant from Arlington Cultural Affairs. The film will now be submitted to festivals to reach a larger audience. 

Linstrom has moved on from her three part-time jobs and is now working full-time as a video editor at a production studio in Alexandria along with coaching rugby at American University. 

The Furies were able to play sevens rugby over the summer and had the first game of their fall fifteens season on Sept. 25.

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