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Women’s league rejects trans players

No vote, no reasons given, hockey player says

"Part of me wants to be just done with that league," says transgendered hockey player Justin Sutherland after learning of the decision by the Women's Floor Hockey League to disallow trans players. "As a league they didn't stand up for trans people." Credit: Doerthe Keilholz

Justin Sutherland’s yellow jersey and bright orange hockey stick sit at home in a closet because he’s no longer allowed to play in the Women’s Floor Hockey League.

Sutherland, who is transgendered, found out via a Sept 14 email from the president, sent to team representatives and captains.

“This will remain the Vancouver WOMEN’S Floor Hockey League,” wrote Tracy Wells.

When Sutherland started hormone therapy in early 2010, he asked Wells if he’d still be allowed to play in the league that once won an Xtra Community Achievement Award for building queer community through sport.

Sutherland says he was told an education session for players would be arranged, and a vote would take place on whether the league should be open to trans people.

Neither the vote nor the education session ever happened, Sutherland says. His emails to Wells asking about the league’s reasons for excluding trans people have gone unanswered, he adds.

“I still feel numb about it,” Sutherland says. “A lot of [players] have helped me to come out and been there as I came out trans. These people have been in my life for a long time. It is pretty tough that way.”

“I don’t know who helped [with] the decision-making and what the reasons were,” Sutherland adds. “I haven’t heard directly from Trey (Wells). I am kind of put off by that because that is the respectful thing to do.”

Wells says she was unable to receive Sutherland’s emails due to computer problems. She says she made the decision to exclude trans men after discussing the topic at a captains’ meeting.

“There was no formal vote because I got tons of feedback,” Wells says. “There was a pretty overwhelming consensus that they [the league members] wanted to continue the league as a women-only league.”

Morgan Camley, co-chair of the trans-inclusive lesbian Mabel League for softball, feels transsexuals shouldn’t be denied access to an important social anchor for people coming out.

“We are a league which has always been about community, and the key for us is that it’s community over competition,” she says. “It’s not the World Series. At the end of the day, what is more important for most of our players is that we have a good, healthy, happy community.”

Denise Sheppard, who plays on several trans-friendly sports teams, says women’s leagues are often the only option for trans men to play team sports. Fearing discrimination, most trans guys don’t join a men’s league, she says.

“It would require trans men to be in dressing rooms, in locker rooms with bio men,” Sheppard notes.

Wells says she’s aware there aren’t many places for trans people to play sports and plans to expand the league by adding a trans-friendly division.

“I like that there are women’s leagues, I like that there are men’s leagues and co–ed leagues. I think that we just need to have more choices,” she says.

For Sutherland, the potential to play on a trans-inclusive division is cold comfort. “Part of me wants to be just done with that league. As a league, they didn’t stand up for trans people.”