Boris Johnson schooled by actual athletes over ‘backwards’ views on trans people in sport

Boris Johnson walks through a hospital corridor

LGBT+ sporting groups and athletes have blasted British prime minister Boris Johnson for saying “biological males” shouldn’t compete in women’s sports.

Johnson, who had already frayed his government’s relationship with the queer community for scrapping a trans conversion therapy ban and cancelling its flagship LGBT+ conference, decided now was the best time to say trans women shouldn’t compete in women’s sports.

“I don’t think biological males should be competing in female sporting events,” Boris Johnson told Sky News during a Wednesday (6 April) visit to a hospital in Welwyn Garden City.

“Maybe that’s a controversial thing to say, but it just seems to me to be sensible.”

Seemingly taking a page from the Republican playbook of creating needless culture wars, Johnson waded into the topic just a week after a trans cyclist was barred from competing in a major national tournament.

The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), world cycling’s governing body, ruled that 21-year-old Emily Bridges could not compete in the National Omnium Championships despite meeting the body’s eligibility criteria for trans athletes.

Johnson’s comments on trans people in sport drew stiff criticism from LGBT+ rights and sporting groups, blasting the premier for using trans lives as a distraction amid the many, many scandals the government has been rocked by in recent months.

“Making blanket statements about whether people should or shouldn’t be in sport is unhelpful and can be intimidating for an already vulnerable minority of UK citizens,” Natalie Washington of Pride Sports, that works in the LGBT+ sports sector, said to PinkNews.

“We’d welcome more constructive dialogue and more respectful listening to the experience of trans people in this space.”

Boris Johnson is anything but an expert on trans-inclusive sports, say advocates 

Richard Hearne, the founder of inclusive cycling group Pride Out, told PinkNews that Boris Johnson‘s “divisive” and “off-the-cuff” stance is unhelpful, considering that he is no expert on the area. “On what basis and knowledge has he made them?” he said.

“Despite thorough scientific evidence concerning trans participation in sport by experts over many years, it appears that some people simply don’t want to entertain the idea of trans people being able to participate in sport.

“I think it’s a very sad situation, especially when trans people are already badly underrepresented in sport.”

Indeed, given that trans folk have such threadbare representation, a Stonewall spokesperson explained, the prime minister making such high-decibel comments are as alarming as they are unnecessary.

After all, two in five trans people avoid taking part in sports or going to the gym, wary of harassment, according to the charity’s data.

“Inclusion policies need to be considered on a sport-by-sport basis,” the spokesperson said, “and it’s vital to avoid using inflammatory rhetoric – which often causes trans people to stop playing the sports they love.”

“While elite sport often dominates these discussions, it only makes up a tiny proportion of all sport played in the UK.”

British Cycling, the national governing body of the sport, launched its policy on trans and non-binary cyclists last year before forming an external Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group to hold the body to account.

This made it all the more surprising that Bridges was barred from competing in Derby, Richard Hearne added.

Emily Bridges

Emily Bridges. (Instagram)

“So why, when the first real-life test of this policy came to pass, did the governing body appear to cave in so easily and say ‘sorry, you can’t compete’,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense to me and appears deeply unfair.”

For Garry Brown, of the queer football club Leftfooters FC, Boris Johnson’s remarks capture how Britain has “taken a step backwards” when it comes to LGBT+ rights under Tory rule.

“The language has changed, the nature of the discussion has changed and hate is creeping back in,” Brown said.

“We should be better than this, there is a place for everyone both in life and sport.”

Against several waves of state legislation, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said that efforts to ban trans girls from competing in women’s sports stem from harmful, easily debunked myths.

Pitting trans women against cis women, the ACLU say, needlessly invites “gender policing that could subject women to invasive tests” and reinforce sexist stereotypes.

The belief that trans athletes have an unfair advantage is also a belief that experts say is not grounded in fact. “A person’s genetic make-up and internal and external reproductive anatomy are not useful indicators of athletic performance,” Dr Joshua Safer told the group.

“There is no inherent reason why her physiological characteristics related to athletic performance should be treated differently from the physiological characteristics of a non-transgender woman.”

“Following on from Boris Johnson’s BS on Sky Sports, we would like to point out we will not be taking over women’s sports,” tweeted TRUK United FC, an all-trans football club. “Something us trans people have been allowed to do for years [by the way].

“So Boris, take your transphobic views and go do one.”