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The ACT is encouraging Canberra sports clubs to be more inclusive of trans and intersex players. Real change, however, needs to be driven by sporting communities themselves.
Simon Copland

12 Apr 2017 - 1:34 PM  UPDATED 12 Apr 2017 - 1:34 PM

Local sports clubs in the ACT are being given an extra push to welcome trans and intersex players into their clubs. The ‘Everyone Can Play’ guidelines, released by the ACT Human Rights Commission, have been designed to assist clubs in dealing with what are often complex gender issues, pointing in particular to growing numbers of players who do not fit the standard gender binary.

Recent evidence has highlighted that trans and intersex players in Australia face significant discrimination when trying to participate in club-level sport. Yet, as high profile international examples have shown, tackling this discrimination is quite complex, particularly in a field that often relies heavily on constructed gender binaries.

Through its quite extensive guidelines, Everyone Can Play attempts to walk the fine line of this complexity, outlining the need for change while rightfully refusing to dictate policies for clubs to implement. The report highlights the fact that many local sporting codes rely on international rules and policies to shape the way they operate, but that these are often not suitable for Australian sports and teams. In particular, many of these policies require intersex and transgender people to undergo medically unnecessary surgical interventions in order to participate as the gender they identify as. This requirement is neither in line with current human rights laws and principles, nor with the legal protections and recognition processes that apply in the ACT.

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Given this, the report encourages local clubs to take a ‘proactive approach’ and create their own policies and procedures regarding the inclusion of trans and intersex people. It suggests that organisations should look to develop or update policies on diversity and equal opportunity, discrimination provisions, player participation, complaints and disciplinary processes, bathroom and change room usage, and uniforms.

While the report is quite detailed in its suggestions on how to write these policies, it is at the same time not prescriptive. Instead, it acknowledges that sport is “an environment where there are often sound reasons for running separate men’s and women’s competitions and events,” and states that changes need to be created to fit local circumstances.

In acknowledging this complexity, the report encourages clubs to actively think about the different scenarios that may play out within their sport, and to adapt their policies as needed—this is a recognition of the complexities around issues concerning gender and sexuality in sport,  and an acknowledgement that change is more easily achieved when driven by the sporting community itself.

How roller derby has proven itself to be the most inclusive sport around
Recently a new by-law for roller derby threatened to exclude trans*, genderqueer and non-binary team members, the community rallied to have the law reversed, and won.

This can be seen most clearly in instances where change has been successful. It was, and remains, the community spirit of roller derby that has driven it to become one of the most inclusive sports around, particularly for trans and intersex participants. A sport led by its players, roller derby has managed to incorporate gender inclusivity at its very core, with the community even fighting back against changes to this inclusive approach when they occur. Similarly, the emergence of ‘gay rugby’ teams around Australia and the world - borne in retaliation to the immense homophobia within the mainstream alternatives - have done wonders for the culture of more official rugby union structures. Union is now one of the leading anti-homophobic voices in the sporting world, primarily because of the gay rugby competition.

While the guidelines presented by the Human Rights Commission are valuable, their worth will only be proven when incorporated at this community level, in particular when trans and intersex people are given space to lead the change. As discrimination remains rife, it will be incorporating this effectively at the local level that will be the next challenge.