Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Talking Trans: A Report from Inside the Tank

Sunday I flew into Indianapolis for the “Equal Opportunities for Transgender Student-Athletes” Think Tank that the Women’s Sports Foundation/It Takes A Team co-sponsored with the National Center for Lesbian Rights/Sports Project. Helen Carroll and I have been planning for the think tank for months and the day had finally arrived.

At the opening reception Sunday evening the 35 invited participants had a chance to mingle and meet before we began our intensive day of work on Monday morning. The participants were an impressive group of people invited for their expertise on and experience with transgender issues and/or their expertise in high school and intercollegiate athletics. Our goal was to finish the day with some concrete thoughts about effective and fair policy recommendations that we could make to high school and collegiate athletic leaders about including transgender athletes on school sports teams.

We began the day with several short overview presentations to give us all a grounding in the topic from some of our participants selected for their knowledge in the areas of medical issues, legal issues, transgender advocacy, drug testing policies in athletics, transgender youth, and a review of the excellent Canadian report “Promising Practices.”

We then moved into small groups each charged with reviewing one of the existing pioneering policies on transgender inclusion in sport looking for problems, positive aspects and fresh approaches that would apply in the interscholastic and intercollegiate setting. Group leaders reported highlights of these discussions back to the whole group.

Over lunch we focused on the experiences of trans-identified athletes. We had two participants who spoke of their experiences in college and national elite sport contexts. We also showed a short video, Helen and I prepared with four other trans-identified athletes talking about their experiences. This was a very moving part of the day. Hearing trans athletes talking about their experiences, disappointments, struggles and triumphs brought home the importance of this work in a way no theoretical discussion can.

After lunch we focused on taking the discussions from the morning to the next level which was to begin to identify policy components that we believed would meet our goal of being fair, practical and effective in the school sport context. I think we were a little concerned that this goal was too lofty or that our process might break down as we struggled to reach some consensus on what were the best ways forward on this challenging task. However, we were able to reach consensus on our recommendations on many important aspects of policy development. I did think my head would explode by the end of the day though with all the creativity, passion and excitement in the room.

It was quite exciting to participate in a group with so much knowledge and passion about this topic and so willing to share it for the common goal of making athletics a safer, more respectful , more inclusive place for all student-athletes. The energy in the room was high. We talked. We laughed and we listened. Most importantly, we made some progress. It was very satisfying. Helen and I are so grateful to all think tank participants for taking the time to join us in this important conversation. I know for myself, as a non-trans-identified woman, it was a great learning opportunity and I have expanded my network of colleagues whose expertise on transgender issues in athletics to include a terrific group of folks.

Now it is Helen’s and my task to synthesize our work from the think tank into a draft report to be reviewed by think tank participants. Ultimately, we plan to create a document that will include an overview of the issues, policy recommendations and best practice recommendations for high school and college athletic leaders, student-athletes, coaches and parents.

Did I say I love this work? How lucky can you be to have the honor of working with such dynamic and smart people on important issues of social justice in an area, sport, that you are passionate about? I am one lucky duck.


Helen said...

Wow Pat,
What an inspiration. Thanks for setting it all up and giving the report on what happened. I wrote up an article about the conference and put a link to you again, so hopefully people will check out all your hard work.
Shewired sports

kristenworley said...

Dear Pat,

I just wanted to take a moment to commend you, Helen Carroll, US Women's Sports Foundation and NCLR for creating this think tank. From you response in your blog seemed incredibly valuable to you.

I hope in the best interest of young developing gender variant/intersex women and men, that we can create a greater dialogue and education that is safe, supportive and inclusive that reflects a brighter, more accessible and universal sports system, empowering our greater society -

I look forward to reading your report, as we in Canada have worked hard over the last several years to help create greater education and science to improves sport domestically and internationally and changing peoples understanding and perceptions about greater social issues few other mediums can do like sport can.

I hope we never see another athlete fall like we just witnessed globally like young Caster Semenya. This is what we are working towards. Lets hope through this process of education, dialogue and language this never happens again anywhere in the world.

With professional regards,

Kristen Worley
Canadian Cyclist

Anonymous said...

I was really excited to hear that this was happening as a collegiate trans athlete. Thanks for posting more about it. I've just started the conversation about trans people in athletics at my school and seeing things like this happening is incredibly encouraging.

Unnamed undergraduate athlete

Pat Griffin said...

Kristen, thank you for your comments. I respect your commitment to being a force for change and social justice in sport. Also, thanks to Canada for being such a terrific leader in area.

Pat Griffin said...

Dear unnamed undergraduate athlete, I'm so glad you read this in my blog. I know it must feel like a lonely path sometimes - being a trans athlete. Believe me when I tell you there are lots of great people who are working hard to help sport governing bodies and individual schools develop more workable and fair policies so trans athletes will be about to compete in the sports they love in their preferred genders.