Rugby players are speaking out against World Rugby’s proposed ban on transgender women participating in union competition.
“I played club and representative rugby with and against cisgender women who were far bigger than me and many were stronger than me,” Australian rugby union and rugby league athlete Caroline Layt told Outsports. “There’s always the argument about size and strength against transgender women but that’s only one prerequisite to a successful rugby player.”
Layt has extensive experience at some of the highest levels of her sport.
Prior to her transition in 1995, she was a budding talent at the top grade of rugby union. In an 11-year career in both codes after her transition, she was a standout player on the pitch and a team leader off of it. Today, she covers the sport as a journalist and blogger and has been a voice for equity for women in Rugby.
She told Outsports she is frustrated that World Rugby didn’t consult transgender women who participate in the sport in building this draft proposal. “It just goes to show the steps the patriarchy has taken to exclude any current or former trans rugby playing women in their working group,” Layt said. “They’re happy for us to be injured playing against cisgender men and the same for trans men playing against cis men, so you know whose welfare is important in all of this. It’s not us trans people as we’re once again collateral damage and our lives don’t matter.”
International Gay Rugby had two participants who were part of a forum in February sponsored by World Rugby, which led to the production of the draft document. Also present and speaking at that forum were representatives of Fair Play For Women, a UK-based organization that has been described by some as an “anti-trans” organization. On the same day World Rugby’s report was leaked to The Guardian, the IGR issued a statement criticizing the possible restrictions as “an irrational standard without suitable research.”
“It’s very surprising to see the restrictive turn that this review of the guidelines has taken, especially with the lack of research that has been conducted.” IGR Chair Karl Ainscough-Gates noted, “Rugby has always been a sporting role model for diversity and inclusion. We will be working with World Rugby to uphold those commitments and ensure that rugby remains a welcoming and open environment to transgender athletes.”
A number of individual clubs affiliated with the IGR backed up the statement.
British transgender male athlete Verity Smith, the only trans rugby player to address World Rugby’s forum, made his feelings known on Twitter. He also retweeted an online petition drive opposing the potential ban, which has garnered over 8,500 signatures as of press time.
An active player and commentator from where rugby is perhaps the national game was blunt in her assessment of a possible ban. “I don’t have any concern being on the pitch with transgender women. If they want to join us, it’s awesome,” Wellington Pride player and Sky Sports New Zealand analyst Alice Soper told Radio New Zealand on June 22.
“It seems to me there were a couple of groups involved in the study who’ve got some TERF views out there.,” Soper said. “They are pretty staunch to exclude trans athletes across the board. I think that it’s important that rugby pushes back. There’s a lot of people in our community who feel that I as a cis female shouldn’t be playing our game.”
New Zealand Rugby’s chief operating officer Nicki Nicol told RNZ that they would get local feedback and review on World Rugby’s contentions, but also echoed Soper’s view on keeping their sport inclusive. “The situation is quite complex, but I’m really proud that we are having conversations and owning it as part of the rugby community and we’re trying to find ways that trans athletes can be involved in our sport. That is the outcome we are trying to effect.” Nicol stated.
Editor’s note: Of course there are trans women who support the proposed ban. One is Diana Thomas, a longtime conservative columnist for The Telegraph who claims to be “a fierce defender of the rights of transwomen” (“trans women” is two words, not one, Diana). However, she remains dead-set against trans women (see, two words) competing with cisgender women in sports. Last fall, this same trans woman argued people ought to be required to carry ID cards if they identify as transgender. Her latest argument is behind a paywall at their site. Read it at your own peril.