Outsports Asshole of the Year is World Rugby


The annual Outsports Awards are for the most part representative of our positive, uplifting perspective of LGBTQ sports and the people who play them, coach them and support them. It’s how we honor our heroes, stars, role models and other inspiring people from across the community.

All but one award reinforces the message that we have spread for 21 years: Courage Is Contagious.

But just like in life, there’s always that one asshole determined to ruin a good thing. That’s what our Asshole of the Year Award is made to do: To call out those who stand in the way of progress, equality, individuality and love.

Throughout 2020, let’s agree: we all saw a lot of assholes. Too many to count! And they made a hard year, an almost impossible year, that much harder, that much more impossible to overcome. We’re sure you have a long list of your own.

One could argue Covid-19 is the asshole of the year, given how its killed 1.76 million people worldwide and infected at least 19 million people here in the U.S., and counting. And yes, the pandemic did impact sports worldwide, including those in which gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trans and queer athletes competed. But the truth is, a virus does what it does without thought, intent or malevolence. To really be an asshole, you need to be a person.

We’ll skip over those assholes who dispute what the science says about the coronavirus and the vaccines, and get right down to it: For this award, we chose the assholes who stood in the way of inclusion in LGBTQ sports in 2020. We say there was no greater asshole this year than the World Rugby organization.

In February 2020, World Rugby organized a forum to begin what its officials called “a comprehensive, collaborative and transparent review” of existing policies on women’s rugby, to determine whether transgender women athletes should compete with cisgender women.

It was organized by a World Rugby Executive Leadership Scholarship recipient and psychiatrist, Dr. Araba Chintoh. She is Canadian and a member of WR’s High Performance Rugby Committee.

A video produced by the group featuring Dr. Chintoh purports to show their intent was to be fair, but the only two transgender people present at the forum told Outsports:

  • Those making decisions did not hear from a single trans woman rugby player
  • They did not hear from the only trans rugby player present, trans man Verity Smith, who is seen in the video as some sort of prop
  • The only trans woman present, Joanna Harper. who is both a runner and a researcher, was afforded an opportunity to speak but was pitted against a phalanx of anti-trans advocates: a biologist with a doctorate in philosophy, Nicola Williams, Ph.D. of the British activist group Fair Play for Women; another British biologist whose expertise is in respiratory and urinary bladder infections, Emma Hilton, Ph.D.; and podcaster Ross Tucker, Ph.D., a South African “science and research consultant” for World Rugby whose degree is in exercise fatigue.
  • Not one shred of scientific data on trans women rugby players was presented. Instead World Rugby relied on research based on what Harper said was “the false assumption that non-athletic, hormone-naive trans women will have the same strength and muscularity as cisgender men.”
  • Harper also said she suspected those in charge “had their minds made up before they called the meeting.”

That seemed to be the case when word got out in July that the group had come up with a recommendation to ban trans athletes.

To fight the proposal, we put together a series of stories in August 2020 featuring trans women rugby players. Click here to see the collection and see why they stood up against oppression.

But instead of putting the issue to a vote in November as had been promised, World Rugby issued “new transgender participation guidelines” in October:

The group announced a recommendation, that trans women not be permitted to play “women’s contact rugby… at elite and international level” events.

“It was concluded that safety and fairness cannot presently be assured for women competing against transwomen [sic] in contact rugby.

“As a result, the new guidelines do not recommend that transwomen play women’s contact rugby on safety grounds at the elite and international level of the game where size, strength, power and speed are crucial for both risk and performance…”

So, in other words, a ban.

NCLR called it correctly: “This is pure bigotry. There is no justification for reversing the current inclusive policy, which has been in place for nearly two decades.”

Chintoh’s only concession: “Unions will be able to exercise flexibility on a case-by-case basis at the community level of the game, for which the unions are responsible, while World Rugby will continue to prioritise inclusion strategies to ensure that the trans community remain an active, welcome and important member of the rugby family,” she said in a statement.

But neither Chintoh nor her World Rugby colleagues bothered to consult Shoshauna Gauvin, Grace McKenzie or Isabella Macbeth, all of whom are trans women who play rugby in the U.S. and Canada, Covid-19 permitting.

It was especially troubling to see this line in World Rugby’s announcement:

“…based on the available evidence, it was concluded that a balance between safety, fairness and inclusion could not be provided for transwomen playing women’s contact rugby.”

Fairness? To whom? It seems to World Rugby and its supporters, fairness applies only to cisgender women and girls. For those who think this only impacts trans athletes, don’t forget: trans people come in all varieties: gay, lesbian, bisexual, and more. Even straight.

The only good news, besides the fact that the proposed “ban” is now only a recommendation in some parts of the world, is that World Rugby has promised to review these guidelines annually.

If they live up to their word this time, that could get them off our asshole list next year.

Other Honoree: The Alliance Defending Freedom

The Southern Poverty Law Center labels ADF an extremist hate group, and explains why here. The ADF calls itself a Christian religious organization of attorneys and business people “advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of human life, freedom of speech, and marriage and family.”

What they did in 2020 isn’t up for debate: the group spent the year fighting two key battles in federal courts to stop trans women athletes from competing with cisgender female competitors.

One case is in Idaho, where a state law banning all trans student athletes is on hold by order of a federal judge, and the other is in Connecticut. There, ADF represents three cisgender young women in a federal lawsuit who claim a state scholastic athletic association and local boards of education are discriminating against them and violating Title IX of the Civil Rights Act Education Amendments of 1972, by allowing trans women and girls to compete in school sports according to their gender identity. That right is guaranteed to them by the state’s constitution, and Connecticut’s governor and state attorney general have stood up to ADF and their allies in the Trump administration, who threatened to withhold federal funding for continuing this policy.

One of the young women suing claimed it was impossible to beat two Black trans girls — Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller — in their sport, track and field. Yet within nine days of announcing the suit, Chelsea Mitchell outran them both in at least two events.

Neither the Connecticut nor Idaho case is likely to be decided until sometime in 2021.

ADF did score one victory in 2020: working with the Betsy DeVos-led U.S. Department of Education to threaten to withhold precious federal funding from Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire, and force it to rescind its transgender participation policy. FPU buckled, which is especially sad since that’s the school that produced the NCAA’s first-ever out trans track and field champion, CeCé Telfer.

No doubt ADF will only work harder in 2021 without the support of a biased anti-trans administration to prop up its bigotry and exclusionary efforts. We’ll be watching.

If you want to follow either World Rugby or ADF, try using Google.

Outsports is unveiling the 2020 honorees every day through Wednesday, Dec. 30.



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