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Sports Complex

By |2004-02-26T09:00:00-05:00February 26th, 2004|Uncategorized|

By Jim Provenzano

Trans Mission: Olympics, Gay Games, and transsexual athletes

Who will be the first out transsexual Olympic athlete, and might that person be a Gay Games alum? We may find out this summer in Athens.
Athletes who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery will be eligible to compete in the Olympics for the first time under new rules by the International Olympic Committee. After a meeting in Sweden with medical experts, the IOC announced the revised policy.
“We will have no discrimination,” IOC medical director Patrick Schamasch said in press statements. “The IOC will respect human rights.” Schamasch said transsexual athletes would be eligible for the Olympics once a certain amount of time has passed after surgery.
Several international sports federations have asked the IOC for guidance on how to qualify transsexuals within the male/female definitions. The revised rules include both male-to-female and female-to-male cases.
It is still unknown whether any transsexual athletes will compete in the 2004 Olympics. Will Athens be a welcoming environment for such a breakthrough? Although ancient Greece was the source of many gay, lesbian, and transgender icons, contemporary Athens is quite conservative regarding the mere depiction of fictional gay sexuality.
For example, Greece’s Mega Channel was fined $117,000 by the National Radio and Television Council for showing a male-male kiss that aired in October 2003 on the weekly drama “Close Your Eyes.” The council said the scene “could damage young people by making them too familiar with vulgarity.” A few weeks later, almost 50 gays and transfolk staged a kiss-in on the steps of the council’s headquarters.
With such a welcoming announcement, will a transsexual athlete dare to come out in competition? “Making a public announcement in support of trans people can expand options for trans athletes,” says transsexual Alana Hardie, a U.S. citizen currently living in Toronto, Ontario. A soccer player, cyclist, weight lifter, rock climber, and student of martial arts, Hardie says she hopes to see the sports movement evolve in light of the IOC’s announcement.
“I will stand firmly behind the first few athletes to come out, because I think that they will bear the brunt of the attacks,” she said. “Hopefully, within a few years, the world will calm down and it will be no big deal.”
Some transsexual athletes have gained notoriety for their struggles outside the Olympics, most notably tennis player and coach Renee Richards. Polish sprinter Stella Walsh may have been the first transgender Olympian athlete. She won the 100-meter gold medal at the 1932 Los Angeles games. Accidentally killed years later, her autopsy revealed an XY chromosome usually associated with males.
Other transsexual athletes do exist but have yet to compete in the Olympics. Li Anne Taft, a male-to-female transsexual paddler in Hawaii, competed with a women’s canoe team despite an unresolved complaint with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission. She claimed discrimination by the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association, which requires a birth certificate to verify gender.
Canada’s Michelle Dumaresq competed as a mountain bike racer. After sex-reassignment surgery in 1996, she competed in the 2002 World Championships in Austria, finishing 24th in the downhill discipline.
At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, the Australian Olympic Committee’s bylaws banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, defining “a person’s gender or sexual orientation … as heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgender or transsexual.” This bylaw actually preceded the recent IOC ruling. Competitors included up to 20 out lesbian and gay competitors, but there were no known transsexual participants.
Also, for the first time in 30 years, women athletes at the Sydney games weren’t forced to submit to routine “gender verification.” This followed a similar decision by the International Amateur Athletic Federation in 1992, and denunciations of the practice by the American Medical Association and other medical groups.
But will a transsexual athlete gain support from the gay community? Gay Games events have paid homage to the inclusive “GLBT” acronym. But Gay Games V in Amsterdam was the subject of allegations of sexual discrimination after transsexuals were barred from competing unless they could provide evidence of “completed gender transition.” The Amsterdam sports committee bowed to pressure to be more inclusive.
Still, participation among transsexuals remains small. Of 1,660 Gay Games V participants surveyed, less than 0.1 percent described themselves as transgender. Among almost 2,000 Sydney Gay Games VI participants surveyed, only 1 percent identified as transgender.
Some trans athletes may still wonder where to find acceptance for their achievements. “I think that the term ‘GLBT’ is too often given lip service in most events or groups, not just in sports,” says Hardie.
Hardie dismissed the charges that athletes use sex reassignment to obtain victory. “People don’t transition because they want to shave four-tenths of a second off of their sprint; they do it because it’s something they need to do for their own peace of mind.”

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.