Queering the playing field


When the U.S. women won the FIFA World Cup in France, LGBTQ folks had something to celebrate. Widely-accepted public displays of affection along with a rejection of Trumpian policies made this win feel, very simply, good.

Along with Rapinoe’s queer kiss and the one between Kelley O’Hara and her partner after the final, earlier in the tournament it was announced that U.S. teammates Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger are engaged. They also kissed. Jill Ellis became the first out lesbian coach to win a World Cup Title.

Women’s sports have long been a place where LGBTQ rights have been of focus, from Billy Jean King, Renée Richards and Gigi Fernández to Simone Augustus, Diana Nyad, Brittany Griner and Nicola Adams.

This week, perhaps overshadowed by the World Cup queerness, a lesbian couple from Belgium, Alison van Uytvanck and Greet Minnen, made history at Wimbledon as the first same-sex couple to play together in a grand slam tournament.

Even more obscure, the world’s first gay cricket club, Graces, is back in action, playing in its first competitive league in more than 10 years. Though in Middlesex, England, the team is international, made up of players from around the globe.

With much to celebrate relating to LGBTQ visibility, transgender and intersex issues in sports are concurrently of focus and have resulted in controversy.

Fox News reported that “two transgender male athletes” kept a high school student from advancing to New England’s girls’ track regionals. Not only did the conservative news network misgender the women athletes, but also biased reporting led to an article full of transphobic quotes.

By this point, many are aware of Caster Semenya’s story. She has been scrutinized since 2009 when she competed in the women’s 800 meters at the world championships in Berlin. After calling Semenya, who has identified as a woman her entire life, “biologically male,” the International Association of Athletics Federations implemented rules requiring women athletes with high testosterone to take hormones to lower the levels.

The exact language:

“She must be recognized at law either as female or as intersex (or equivalent); she must reduce her blood testosterone level to below five (5) nmol/L for a continuous period of at least six months (e.g., by use of hormonal contraceptives); and thereafter she must maintain her blood testosterone level below five (5) nmol/L continuously (ie: whether she is in competition or out of competition) for so long as she wishes to remain eligible.”

This language is limiting and narrow with virtually no understanding of the LBGTQ-plus community.  The IAAF inevitably created a definition for a “woman athlete,” and based it only on hormonal levels.

Sports have been a venue for activism, from Title IX to queer visibility and acceptance, but the debate over sports, along with masculinity in mens’ sports, also creates toxic and discriminatory environments. Let’s certainly celebrate our victories but let’s also stand beside one another in a continued fight.