The uphill battle for trans inclusive sports

The uphill battle for trans inclusive sports

On a beautiful sunny Friday afternoon in Amsterdam I had the pleasure of sitting down with Tabi Sutherland. Tabi is an avid cyclist and advocates for trans inclusive sports through their work at Pride and Sports. We got to talk about the beautiful and necessary work that Tabi does for our community.

First we would like to know who Tabi is. Where do you come from? Age? Pronouns? And why did you move to Amsterdam?

So Hi, I’m Tabi. I’m 28 years old, and originally from Glasgow in Scotland but I’ve lived in Amsterdam for 3 years. I’m bisexual, I use they/them pronouns, and I’m trans non-binary. 

I moved to Amsterdam to escape from ‘Brexit Britain’, but also to have a different pace and style of life. I started cycling in my early 20s, and for me Amsterdam has always been the city for cyclists. It’s also a place where I thought there was a lot of acceptance for LGBT+ people, and that it was somewhere really fun. It’s also incredibly beautiful – and that’s why I wanted to move here. 

The first question that comes to my mind is how did sports enter your life?

I have always been a sporty person. Ever since I was a kid, I have enjoyed running and playing sports in teams. Growing up it was a way of challenging myself, but most importantly it was a way of escaping every day. I started by running and playing hockey. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I started to cycle more regularly, around the same time I started coming to terms with the fact that I’m non-binary, and cycling has now become one of the loves of my life. 

There is a huge discussion full of prejudice about trans people in sports, where sports associations say that trans people cannot compete due to hormonal issues and that we would have advantages. With this, some sports associations are going against the IOC ruling: ‘No athlete shall be barred from competing or excluded from competition on the basis of an unverified, alleged or perceived unfair competitive advantage due to variations in sex, physical appearance and/or status transgender‘, says item 5.1 of the guidelines of the IOC.

What do you think about this? 

This is a really big topic. Obviously rules are there for a reason – to ensure it is fair for everyone and that there is no doping. However, the average person and society as a whole just don’t have the correct information and education when it comes to transgender people, which especially impacts trans women. I cannot begin to imagine the pain that transgender women are feeling, right? Most of the hate and exclusion is targeted at this part of our community. 

The fact is, we – trans people – just want to live our lives and play sports. And if we are good, we want to play sport at the best level we can – just like any other human being. It’s as easy as that.

With this topic there are a lot of conflicting statements on both sides. The main arguments for stopping trans people from competing is because of a perceived advantage. A perceived advantage is not a factual advantage. The statement above by the IOC is correct. Nobody should be judged on the way they present, identify or on their sex characteristics. 

In addition to this, nobody is actually doing enough research to come up with the firm facts nor are they including real transgender people in this research. The majority of it is based on biased science and singular opinions – and that is a fact. There is a difference between an advantage and an unfair advantage. But like I said, the key is a perceived advantage – perceived doesn’t mean it’s true. It is already proven that transgender people do not hold a distinctive unfair advantage. 

Additionally, only 2-3% of the population in the Netherlands identifies as trans. This is a really small amount. Any media attention trying to drive the idea that we have an ‘agenda’ other than wanting to live our lives without fear or discrimination is harmful. 

What I hope is that we have a future where everyone can compete in a way that is fair and just for everyone – and that ALL people are included in all levels of sport without any form of segregation. 

And do you think there is space for trans people in cycling?

     I think there is more of a space coming up for trans people in cycling, but only at a local community level. In other areas of cycling, trans people are being silenced and swept away. Recently this year in the UK for example, the story of Emily Bridges (a trans woman cyclist, but most importantly, a lovely person) came into the media. She came out as trans a few years ago, and had followed all the rules that the UCI and British Cycling had asked her to follow while she underwent HRT. When the time came that she could compete again in the women’s category, they suddenly did a u-turn and said she couldn’t race anymore. A few days later, they took away their policy on allowing trans and non-binary cyclists to compete at elite level completely. 

This was not only heartbreaking for Emily, but also for the entire trans, non-binary and intersex cyclists community. This is not the only thing that has happened – more and more prejudice is seeping into the sport all over the world purely because of people’s lack of knowledge or because they believe misinformation. Even on an amateur level, there is prejudice towards trans people. Cycling is already elitist, this just adds to the problem. 

Can you talk about your work within Pride and Sports?

I first started volunteering for Pride and Sports at the end of last year. I am now the Director for Change and Inclusion Development for Cycling. Pride and Sports aims to make sports in the Netherlands a safe space for all LGBT+ people, and I focus on trying to do this in cycling. We look to support people with education, connecting LGBT+ cyclists together, and pushing for firm policy change within cycling to increase diversity and inclusion. 

And how was the initiative “Pedal for Pride” born? 

The Pedal for Pride was born from a want to connect LGBT+ cyclists from all over the country. When I came to the Netherlands, I was shocked to see that there weren’t any LGBT+ cycling clubs that were well-known. 

With the Pedal for Pride we wanted to show that you are not alone, and that there are LGBT+ people existing in cycling. We also wanted to demonstrate that by being inclusive of LGBT+ people, cycling clubs are making the sport better for everyone and uplifting it. We are here, and we want to support and educate people to be better allies in cycling – because everyone deserves to be able to cycle without fear of discrimination. 

I know that outside of the pedals you are also a drag king, can you tell us a little bit about this hobby?

I have always loved dressing up and being in a costume. Drag, however, is freeing rather than that I feel I am covering something up. I only started doing it a couple of years ago after attending a drag workshop at NYX by Thorn Vineyard pre-pandemic. It inspired me and freed me – and now it’s something I cannot imagine not doing. It’s something I can do that makes me love my body and myself more than I ever have. It’s the same freedom that I get from cycling. 

Can you tell me what your plans are for the future as a cyclist (Pride and Sports) and doing drag?

I don’t have a lot of plans for drag, apart from that I would love to do more shows for fun and enjoy it! 

With cycling, I would like to keep pushing for real change in the industry. My goal would be to create and implement policy change with clubs and governing bodies such as the KNWU (Koninklijke Nederlandse Wielren Unie, or the Dutch Cycling Association). I would like to create a plan where every cycling club needs to have (and implement) a policy to ensure LGBT+ people feel safe in cycling. I would also like to push for better education and outreach – a lot of clubs say they are inclusive, but they have actually done no training or education for members or staff. Pride and Sports can provide that, and I would like us to do more outreach to support clubs in their journey to become a better place for LGBT+ people. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but charities like Pride and Sports are here to help. 

Personally, I would like to continue feeling free and living my life by bike. Cycling saved me from a dark place, and I hope I can give back to the sport what it has given me. 

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