By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)

Following the first panel which discussed how authenticity in sport influences performance. The second panel event at the 6th Edition of #AuthenticMe hosted by Sports Media LGBT+ and Pride of the Terraces that was delivered as a part of Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022 and was also part of the programme for the Erasmus+ project “Sporting (S)Equals”.  The event focused on building inclusion in sport from the grassroots level and featured panel discussions from Zyra Evangelista and Ross Lockerbie who shared their experiences in participating in and building LGBTQ+ inclusive sports teams as well as Blair Hamilton with the University of Brighton who is considered one of the leading scientific experts on transgender athletes.

Evanglelista highlighted their experiences as a nonbinary athlete navigating through basketball, specifically regarding the difficulties that nonbinary athletes might face within a binary sport structure. Even on LGBTQ+ inclusive teams, considering for non-binary athletes aren’t always considered. Talking about basic structural things such as gender specific locker rooms and accessibility to gender neutral spaces but also more sport specific things. Evangelista highlighted how they might struggle with the size of the basketball itself, having hands more suitable for a smaller ball but playing for a team/league that uses a bigger ball. Sharing that those are local level considerations that nonbinary athletes face but are unnoticed within binary sports. They also discussed that the lack of mixed gender teams above the grassroots level makes it challenging for nonbinary athletes to participate in higher levels of sport altogether. Evangelista called on national governing bodies and sport policy makers to consider exactly who the majority of people are playing the sport when discussing sport policy, noting that as an important point to highlight that sport policy is designed based on the elite level athletes but ultimately has a detrimental effect on the majority of the grassroots level.

These sentiments were shared by Lockerbie who discussed his experiences in starting an LGBTQ+ inclusive rugby club, the Glasgow Raptors FC. Fielding a question regarding the representation of gay rugby on film, Lockerbie commented that some recent films have oversexualized the sport, given into gay stereotypes in pursuit of a specific narrative but ultimately an inaccurate portrayal of what gay rugby, and by extension, gay sports represent. He commented on another recent documentary about gay rugby which featured a more positive portrayal of a rugby team training and preparing for the Bingham Cup. Highlight that Film as a more accurate representation of LGBT sports groups and emphasising that the journeys and goals of LGBTQI teams compared to straight teams and especially elite teams are often quite similar.

Hamilton focused more on the grassroots of pursuing the science of transgender athletes and sport, particularly amid the political drama and often heated discussions surrounding inclusive policies for trans athletes in sport. Hamilton comes for a data driven point of view stating that all current policies, trans-inclusive and trans-exclusionary alike, are based on anecdotal evidence and assumptions from the very limited and often biased information that is out there. Essentially describing the political debate surrounding the issue as a Wild West since no organization really has the proper data to make an informed decision. As an exercise and sport scientist herself, Hamilton has taken the lead in developing a long-term research project, backed by the International Olympic Committee to develop scientifically valid and reliable research projects focusing on trans athletes.

Our current understanding of human physiology is rooted solely in cisgender peoples without any proper analysis done to understand exactly how gender transition, including hormone replacement therapy and gender affirming surgery, changes the body’s state of homeostasis. Speaking from a generalized point of view, Hamilton is conducting the research to answer these questions through both cross-sectional study designs (comparing cis to trans people) and longitudinal studies of active trans peoples during their transition journey. As the research and data become available and accessible, Hamilton then points on that this foundation I’ll then help set the stage for intervention-based studies designed to evaluate differences in basic exercise performance between cis and trans people but also amongst trans people before, during and after transition. Eventually leading and hoping to inspire more researchers then to pursue research in the different areas of sport to understand sport specific effects. Hamilton points out that, unfortunately, this research will take time, while some work will start getting published soon, patience is key.

All three panelists emphasised the importance of policy makers, national governing bodies, and sports leaders to approach inclusion in sport by examining the lead of grassroots level sport. Important to consider that many of the athletes that make-up the vast majority of sport participation are simply there to participate, have fun and enjoy the social, mental and physical benefits of sport.

Photo Credit: Dirk Smith