This year’s new transgender participation policies do not reflect medical science and block the growth of cycling by preventing authentic inclusion, writes Josh Jones from ALL IN racing.
It has been a really challenging year to be queer and a bike racer: between May and July, British Cycling (BC), then Cycling Time Trials (CTT) and then the UCI itself announced new policies that bar transgender women from authentically participating in competition. Meanwhile, this year’s Tour de France featured thrilling performances from both Yates brothers that I could not honestly cheer for. Homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death in the United Arab Emirates1 and Saudi Arabia2 (where AlUla is an oasis tourist town3) and so Adam and Simon Yates, riding for UAE Team Emirates and Team Jayco AlUla respectively, represent regimes which – and there is zero exaggeration here – could literally put me to death.
With our own governing bodies taking steps designed actively to exclude LGBT+ people from cycling I’ve never felt less welcome at races
These teams have existed for years but with our own governing bodies taking steps designed actively to exclude LGBT+ people from cycling I’ve never felt less welcome at races in a decade of pinning on numbers.
None of these organisations has demonstrated that their new policies reflect the current state of medical science. Don’t take my word for it: the UCI publishes their own document summarising the state of scientific evidence comparing transgender women undertaking various treatments to cisgender women, which you can read here. It was last updated in May this year before British Cycling announced their policy. It hasn’t been updated since and the May revision was referenced in the July press release from the UCI when they changed their policy.
The conclusion from the UCI is:
“Based on current knowledge, it is therefore impossible to confirm,
- that at least 2 years of GAHT with a target plasma testosterone concentration of 2.5 nM are sufficient to completely eliminate the advantages associated with the increase in testosterone during puberty in males,
- or that despite the hormonal transition treatment, an advantage persists on cycling performance after 2 years of GAHT.”
Note that the bold impossible to confirm is present in the published document and has not been editorialised. GAHT stands for Gender Affirming Hormone Treatment, also known as Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).
There is insufficient evidence to say conclusively that transgender women undergoing treatment retain an advantage
What does this mean? It means that there is insufficient evidence to say conclusively that transgender women undergoing treatment retain an advantage. Transgender women undergoing treatment cannot conclusively be said to pose a threat to the fairness of women’s sport (that bold is mine). The current body of medical science is insufficient to base policy on.
When the UCI announced the new policy they cherry-picked language for the press release, failing to represent the balance given in their own medical advice. In changing their rules the UCI, BC and CTT seem to have caved to the same international political pressure that led to the international governing body for chess to suspend transgender women from women’s competition too4. Think about that for a second – how obviously ridiculous that is.
BC claim to have conducted their own medical study, but this is not public. I asked BC to publish their scientific reasoning: they declined. The FAQs BC released reference 4 studies5, most with methodological6 and author bias issues7. A fellow LGBT+ cyclist, 15-year BC member, BC Level 2 coach and PhD candidate in biomedical science challenged BC on these issues – months and many chases later BC issued a generic response that failed to engage with her specific concerns. All 4 of these studies are included in the UCI assessment and BC have given no indication that any of the other 36(!) studies were appropriately considered.
What about CTT? Their why is: “Because we are convinced that after undergoing male puberty a rider will retain strength, stamina and physique which will give them a permanent advantage over someone who has not.”8 That’s it. There is no claim to scientific assessment, no attempt to educate the organisation on LGBT+ inclusion, no due diligence in decision making and no process for policy review. It strikes me as truly lazy work that I won’t waste another word on.
BC and the UCI are treating trans women as guilty until proven innocent
BC and the UCI are treating trans women as guilty until proven innocent – none of us would be happy for ourselves or our friends or our kids to be treated this way. These approaches demonstrate a fundamental lack of empathy, common decency and awareness of the myriad challenges faced by marginalised communities in all areas of life. Trans women are women and should be treated as such, allowing them to compete with women when relevant medical conditions are met until such a time as the weight of medical science can definitively prove that advantages persist in cycling post-treatment.
Don’t the new ‘open’ categories make things better? In short, no. UCI junior and elite races aren’t getting the ‘open’ category at all and both BC and the UCI (in Masters and Gran Fondo events) prevent cisgender women from entering the ‘open’ race. That’s not very open at all. And so re-naming the men’s category to ‘open’ applies only a thin veneer of inclusion to policies which deny that trans women are women and which make no attempt to help trans women integrate into the racing community – it’s not good enough.
We’re all downbeat at the declining state of domestic racing, and we all want more. Authentic inclusion gives us exactly this – inclusion is more. It means more members for clubs, more volunteers for organisers, more talent for teams, more events for racers and more customers for sponsors. Inclusion is cycling’s biggest opportunity for growth and all of us will benefit.
These benefits are real: last year the Andover Supercross UCI races were directly funded by LGBT+ people and allies through my ALL IN racing initiative – a day of international cyclocross races that would not have happened without people keen to show support for inclusion through our rainbow socks. The 3rd round of this year’s BC National XC Series only avoided cancellation because a transgender racer stepped up to volunteer as a marshal at the last minute – just a few weeks before BC would bar her. Clubs and groups that have fostered cultures genuinely inclusive for LGBT+ people such as the North London Thundercats (who run the excellent Thundercrit), Velociposse, Steezy Collective, Out Velo and LDN RIDERS enjoy the sort of engaged membership most club committees would kill for.
Inclusion is more. It means more members for clubs, more volunteers for organisers, more talent for teams, more events for racers and more customers for sponsors
As a community, we get to decide what the culture of our sport is. We have the power to change it, to make it truly welcoming and inclusive and to help grow participation. Effective LGBT+ inclusion has positive impacts beyond just the queer community: if cycling can be welcoming for some of the most unfairly marginalised communities it can be inclusive for anyone who doesn’t fit the standard model of appearance or behaviour for a racing cyclist. LGBT+ inclusion sets a solid foundation for a healthy, diverse sporting culture that is good for business and encourages growth9.
I started this piece by saying how two current men’s WorldTour teams represent states that would put me to death. It’s a terrifying notion. But even in this country LGBT+ people still face significant challenges. We are more at risk of abuse, hate crimes, physical violence, homelessness, depression and mental health issues, substance abuse, self-harm and suicide10. Within the LGBT+ community, transgender people are at highest risk of all these things11. Hate crime is rising rapidly12. Every transgender friend I have has experienced direct hate and public abuse and I’ve received a share of this on their behalf too.
And yet all of us know the joy that riding bikes gives us, the opportunity to know and challenge ourselves, grow, explore, find friends and enjoy welcome time away from the stresses of everyday life. We’ve established that even the UCI thinks the balance of medical science does not confirm a retained advantage for transgender women undergoing treatment so why would we not want to share these benefits?
We must not underestimate the power of community: for a struggling trans or queer person, finding a community where they can be themselves and be respected, welcomed and accepted is an enormously powerful thing
Our governing bodies’ policies forget all about these benefits. I personally know how lonely and isolating being queer can be – in school, in life and in sport. We must not underestimate the power of community: for a struggling trans or queer person, finding a community where they can be themselves and be respected, welcomed and accepted is an enormously powerful thing. There are people that exist now, today, hiding unseen and unknown for whom these policies are another brick in the wall excluding them from living the healthy, authentic life that most people take for granted.
In today’s social climate where more and more communities are closing themselves off to LGBT+ people, a genuine commitment to inclusion and creating an environment that wholeheartedly welcomes everyone has the very real power to literally save lives.
Wouldn’t that uphold the integrity of our sport?
If you run a club or a team or a brand or a national or international governing body and would like to: engage with the LGBT+ community or learn more about the economic benefits of LGBT+ inclusion or learn more about the productivity benefits of true diversity or get involved with ALL IN racing or take part in activations to show support, get in touch through the website or on Instagram. If you’re an individual and want some rainbow socks check out the website too, and I’m always keen to hear people’s thoughts and experiences which you can share anonymously and with total confidentiality.
Featured image: Ian Wrightson
- Human Dignity Trust, United Arab Emirates. ↩︎
- Human Dignity Trust, Saudia Arabia. ↩︎
- Experience AlUla, About AlUla. ↩︎
- BBC News, Transgender women banned from women’s chess events. ↩︎
- British Cycling, Transgender and Non-Binary Participation Policy FAQs. ↩︎
- Blair Hamilton, Fergus Guppy & Yannis Pitsiladis, Comment on: “Transgender Women in the Female Category of Sport: Perspectives on Testosterone Suppression and Performance Advantage”, Sports Medicine. ↩︎
- Charlotte Head, Opinion: British Cycling’s Trans policy change is unfair and incorrect, Cyclist. ↩︎
- Cycling Time Trials, Transgender Policy FAQs. ↩︎
- McKinsey & Company, Diversity wins: How inclusion matters. ↩︎
- Mental Health Foundation, LGBTIQ+ people: statistics. ↩︎
- Su et al., Mental Health Disparities Within the LGBT Population: A Comparison Between Transgender and Nontransgender Individuals, Transgender Health. ↩︎
- BBC News, Hate crimes recorded by police up by more than a quarter. ↩︎