LGBTQI2S+ Inclusion in Sport: Some Frequently Asked Questions

There is a large body of research that points to many negative experiences that LGBTQI2S+ persons have had in sport historically. And while there is evidence that sport is perhaps less homophobic than it once was, there remains a lot of work to be done to ensure all LGBTQI2S+ persons experience sport in a positive way. Sport is argued to have tremendous benefits for people’s physical, emotional, and social health and wellness but research also shows that LGBTQI2S+ youth drop out of sport at far higher rates than their heterosexual and cisgender peers. If they remain in sport, they can be targets of bullying, social exclusion, and hurtful stereotypes. Trans and gender non-conforming youth, and those questioning and exploring their gender identity, also have to negotiate the organization of sport in accordance with the traditional gender binary, as well as transphobic attitudes. Traditional ways of thinking about masculinity and femininity also can impact boys and men who participate in what are perceived as “girls’ sports/activities” as they may experience different forms of bullying in other social spaces such as school. Young girls and women who identify as bisexual, queer, lesbian, or gay are made to feel invisible in sports such as figure skating because of stereotypical ideas about femininity.

LGBTQI2S+ is one variation of an initialism that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, and two-spirit. You may also see it referred to as LGBTQ, LGBTQ+, LGBTQQI2SA, LGBTQI2S+ etc. Regardless of the specific letters used, the initialism represents a large community of gender and sexually diverse persons. More recently, some organizations have started using the acronym SOGI, which stands for sexual orientation and gender identity. Skate Canada uses LGBTQI2S+ in its materials, following the lead of the LGBTQI2S+ Sport Inclusion Task Force and other sport and advocacy organizations.

Skate Canada has included definitions in our Trans Inclusion Policy. There are also resources available on our website at https://skatecanada.ca/portfolio-item/safe-sport-protection-through-prevention/

Two-Spirit (2-Spirit): A term used by some North American Aboriginal societies to describe people with diverse gender identities, gender expressions, gender roles, and sexual orientations. Two-Spirit is translated from the Ojibew term “Niizh manidoowag”, indicating a person whose body simultaneously houses a feminine and a masculine spirit. Dual-gendered or “two-spirited” people have been and are viewed differently in different First Nations communities. Sometimes they have been seen without stigma and were considered seers, child-carers, warriors, mediators, or emissaries from the creator and treated with deference and respect, or even considered sacred, but other times this has not been the case.

As one of the devastating effects of colonisation and profound changes in North American Indigenous societies, many Two-Spirit persons have lost these community roles and this has had far-reaching impacts on their well-being. (Definition from QMUNITY BC’s Queer Resource Centre).

While the word “queer” can be used in a negative way in today’s society—and certainly has a long history as a derogatory word—some LGBTQI2S+ persons use “queer” as a form of self-identification. It also is often used as an umbrella term, meant to be inclusive of all gender and sexually diverse persons (e.g., “members of the queer community”). You should never assume that someone is comfortable with the word “queer” and you should NEVER call someone “a queer” or “the queer”. If in doubt, it is always best to ask and then respect the answer that you are given.

Canadian Women & Sport  has an excellent resource available entitled Leading the Way: Working with LGBTQ Athletes and Coaches (A Practical Resource for Coaches). In the guide, many important terms are defined such as cisgender, ally, trans, transphobia, etc. It is available online at https://womenandsport.ca/learning-opportunities/presentations/LGBTQI2S+-inclusion-in-sport/

Skate Canada has a document outlining eight ways that we can make skating more inclusive. You can find that resource along with additional educational resources at https://skatecanada.ca/2020/06/eight-ways-to-make-skating-more-inclusive-to-the-LGBTQI2S+-community/

Skate Canada approved the trans inclusion policy in May 2018 and continues to review it to ensure it follows current best practices. This policy was put in place to ensure that trans members of our organization know that they are welcome in our sport.

The trans inclusion policy provides opportunity for trans persons to participate in skating as the gender they identify as and not necessarily their sex assigned at birth. Trans persons are not required to prove their gender identity in any way and are not required to disclose that they are trans if they choose not to. We respect people’s right to privacy, a philosophy paramount to providing safe space in sport. Specific to competition, skaters participating in non-ISU events are entitled to compete in the category that aligns with their chosen gender identity. At ISU events, international rules apply for competition participation and Skate Canada will work with athletes, their coaches, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) and other persons identified by the athlete (e.g., family member, doctor) to determine eligibility.

There are many excellent statements about so-called competitive advantage in sport, which is generally used as an argument against trans girls’ and women’s participation. The following statement from Canadian Women & Sport  provides guidance on this topic:

“Those who have denied transgender and gender-fluid girls and women full access to opportunities in women’s sports have argued that these individuals have an unfair competitive advantage in sport over cisgender girls and women and/or that their participation will make sport unsafe for cisgender girls and women. Canadian Women & Sport  rejects these arguments first and foremost on the basis that inclusion of and equity for women and girls should not and cannot imply the exclusion of other marginalized groups. Canadian Women & Sport  instead advocates for sport organizations at all levels to take proactive measures to create inclusive environments that enable all to participate and compete, regardless of their gender identity and expression.”

Research has found there are more significant differences in athletic performance within gender specific categories than there are between gender specific categories at the same level. For example, in skating, we are more typically going to see greater differences in skills between a skater finishing first and a skater finishing 12th in a juvenile women’s event than we will differences between all skaters competing in a juvenile women’s and a juvenile men’s event. Moreover, while trans athletes certainly do win events they enter in all sports, which becomes the focus of great media attention, they also finish in the middle- and bottom-of-the-pack, which never gets talked about. Even more specific to skating, the judging system is designed to assess all aspects of skating.

Skate Canada’s trans inclusion policy follows best practice guidelines for trans inclusion for all events under Skate Canada’s jurisdiction. The link below will take you to the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport document on trans inclusion, produced by experts from a variety of fields, that supports participation in sport based on a person’s chosen gender identity in line with long-term athlete development guidelines for recreational and developmental levels of sport.

https://cces.ca/sites/default/files/content/docs/pdf/cces-transinclusionpolicyguidance-e.pdf

 This is a really problematic misconception when talking about trans inclusion in sport. People are most often concerned that cisgender boys or men are going to declare they are girls or women and “win all the competitions”. First, this problematically assumes the athletic superiority of all boys and men over all girls and women. Second, there are no documented examples in the history of elite sport where this has happened; quite frankly, it is an irrational concern!

If an athlete expresses interest in competing in a category that does not seem to correspond to their sex assigned at birth, perhaps this is their way of wanting to start an important conversation about their gender identity. Don’t assume that it is about “cheating” and have an open conversation with athletes in this scenario. If it does seem that athletes are somehow wanting to cheat the system, this then becomes about responsible coaching and parenting and engaging in conversations about honest participation in sport, as well as respect for trans and gender non-conforming persons in our sport and beyond.

Per the current version of Skate Canada’s Trans Inclusion Policy, Skate Canada is committed to including gender non-conforming persons. Like sport more generally, however, skating remains organized according to the gender binary; put another way, skating events remain largely segregated using two gendered categories (girls/women, boys/men). Skaters who identify outside the gender binary are welcome to register for events in the gender category that makes the most sense to them and Skate Canada will continue to investigate and implement ways to be more inclusive in this regard. Some ways Skate Canada has addressed this to date is through rule changes related to costumes for domestic events at all levels and disciplines, changing the definition of pair and dance teams to “two skaters” for STAR events and competitions, and removing the separation of girls and boys in STAR 1-3 events.

Skate Canada’s trans inclusion policy states that the organization “will make every effort to provide all individuals with safe access to and use of toilets, change rooms, and other facilities in accordance with their gender identity and/or gender expression”. First and foremost, individuals must be allowed to use the locker room or washroom they choose based on their gender identity or gender expression. If request is made for separate space, this must be accommodated as much as possible. In general, when possible, dressing rooms should be provided and labeled as follows: “Girls/Women Change Room”, “Boys/Men Change Room”, All-Gender Change Room”; using these terms on their own is sufficient (i.e., there’s no need to include images or graphics). The organization, in consultation with various experts, will be creating a document that will provide a variety of options based on availability of space, type of event, etc.

First, be sure that you feel safe in intervening at the moment. Second, politely tell the person that they are using discriminatory language that you and others find offensive. Third, offer to educate this person on why the language they are using is problematic and, if appropriate, suggest alternative language; for example, instead of saying “that’s so gay” say “that’s ridiculous” or “that’s outrageous”. You can also suggest that the resources found on the Skate Canada website would be helpful to the person in order to better educate themselves.

However, where reasonable efforts to intervene fail and in the case where a resolution cannot be found amongst all individuals involved, all reports of misconduct must be submitted directly through the external independent third-party Case Manager process. For more information, please review the Reporting Misconduct Flowchart.

All questions can be sent via email to [email protected] and they will be directed to the appropriate National Service Center staff person. Or call 1.888.747.2372 and ask to speak to someone about LGBTQI2S+ inclusion.

Prepared by Dr. William Bridel (University of Calgary) and Heather McMahon and Amy Levac (Skate Canada National Service Centre) with input from Jennifer Birch-Jones (Canadian Women & Sport). November 2020