When Vancouver won the bid to host the 2011 North American Outgames, the local lesbian softball league rejoiced and even considered signing up to host the games’ softball tournament.
But the Mabel League’s enthusiasm fizzled over concerns surrounding local hosts’ liability, as well as the Outgames’ policy on FTM transgendered players transitioning with testosterone.
In a note to trans athletes, the Outgames 2011 homepage until recently said, “The administration of testosterone would constitute a doping offence.”
In a subsequent vote on whether or not to host the Outgames’ softball tournament, the majority of the Mabel League voted no.
“We have fully inclusive policies in our league, and I think members are very proud of that,” says Lara Percy, chair of the Mabel League.
“Our understanding of the Outgames’ policies was that they are different than ours and not compatible with ours.”
Greg Larocque, president of the Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association North America (GLISA), which organizes the Outgames, says he was confused when he heard about the Mabel League’s decision.
“We read the concerns and we were actually wondering, ‘What are they referring to?’ That is not our policy.”
Larocque says a look on his organization’s website reveals that the policy referred to is an outdated version. He says the policy was updated in January 2010 in order to be more trans-inclusive.
“The policy that the Mabel League refers to in their letter is an early transgender policy for GLISA International and that is not the policy of GLISA North America,” Larocque says. “Our new policy says FTM or MTF, they are very welcome to participate in any way they like.”
While apologizing for GLISA’s “glitch,” Larocque says much confusion could have been avoided if the league had contacted GLISA North America earlier. “They just said ‘we are not going to participate because of the policy.’ So, it was, at that point, too late to say ‘Oops, that is our policy’ and that was really disappointing.”
“In fact,” says Percy in a Nov 16 letter to the Mabel League, “we (a) met with, (b) wrote to, and (c) followed up by telephone with the Outgames board member who is in charge of arranging contracts between the Outgames and the local host leagues.
“When we communicated our two major concerns, this board member told us that ‘there was no point’ in raising our concerns with the rest of the board because they would not make any changes in response to our concerns. We implored him to bring our concerns to the rest of the board, but from the board’s comments in Xtra it appears that he did not do so.
“In short, we were rejected in our attempts to work with the Outgames to find mutually agreeable terms for the Mabel League’s involvement. It was only after those discussions that the Mabel League’s members unanimously voted against participating in the Outgames, and drafted the letter setting out our unanswered concerns.”
Percy also notes in her letter to the Mabel League that “nothing on the GLISA/Outgames website indicated that the policy was out of date. It was presented as their current and valid policy.”
“When we raised our concerns about the policy, the Outgames board member did not provide any indication whatsoever that the policy had been revised,” she writes. “Quite to the contrary: he confirmed the policy and told us that the Outgames would not change it or allow exemptions.”
Though the new policy has yet to be posted on the Outgames’ website, Larocque gave Xtra a copy.
The new policy acknowledges that “close to 2 out of every 100 people do not fit traditional concepts of ‘maleness’ or ‘femaleness'” and outlines GLISA North America’s wish to create a policy that does not perpetuate “the outdated ‘gender binary’ model.”
With regard to trans athletes, the policy states it “is GLISA North America OutGames’ policy that transitioned/transgender athletes registered in a competition that requires gender specifics must compete in the appropriate gender identity.”
Larocque says this requirement depends on each trans athlete’s “individual circumstances” and will only apply if a trans player’s participation in the tournament is challenged by another player.
“We developed our own [policy] which says basically, ‘play your little hearts out, enjoy your event.’ But if there is a dispute, we need a mechanism,” he explains. “Where [athletes] are playing because they want those gold medals and they are worried about any small advantage to their competitor, that is where people are getting very tense.”
The new policy outlines a review process to resolve disputes that could arise between trans and non-trans athletes, Larocque says.
According to the policy, a panel consisting of a representative of the Continental Outgames organizing committee, a representative of GLISA North America and a medical practitioner will review a trans athlete’s participation in the event of a dispute.
Trans athletes might also be required to provide medical records and undergo medical exams in order to determine hormone levels.
Mabel League members Justin Crawford and Ashley McGee believe the alleged advantages of trans athletes over non-trans athletes is a misconception.
“There are several trans men that haven’t gotten bigger, haven’t gotten stronger,” says Crawford. “I happen to be a big guy, but I was always big. The testosterone hasn’t changed me a lot. It’s not gonna make me 6’2″.”
Although he hasn’t seen the new policy, Crawford says he would consider undergoing medical tests in order to participate in the tournament if “policies were changed and they were clear and the steps to be taken were clear, and if the policy was trans-inclusive.”
He remains concerned about the possibility of trans men not being allowed to play on a women’s team.
“I feel like I could participate in men’s divisions and it would be okay. But there are a lot of trans men that couldn’t and they would be excluded by this policy,” Crawford says.
Local Outgames chair John Boychuk points out that GLISA North America’s policy was developed by a trans person and is “more up-to-date in identifying trans individuals” and provides “a better guide in participation in a sport.”
“If there is any way of continuing to work with [the Mabel League], to bring them in, we are more than willing to do so,” says Boychuk. “This was never intended to exclude anybody. The Outgames are definitely meant for inclusion.”