Call for athletes to co-opt ‘taking the knee’ against trans people is ‘bitter mockery’, activists say

Trans athlete and advocate Schuyler Bailar and Inga Thompson

Trans advocates have criticised retired Olympic cyclist Inga Thompson for her “bitter mockery” after she called on athletes to co-opt the anti-racist gesture of taking the knee to “save women’s sports”. 

Swimmer Schuyler Bailar, who, in 2015, became the first trans person to compete for a men’s team in National Collegiate Athletics Association division one, branded Thompson “manipulative”. 

His words follow a tweet by Thompson on 7 May, in which she suggested anti-trans athletes should start taking a knee to protest against cycling world governing body, Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), over policies for trans inclusion.

The gesture of taking the knee – synonymous with protests against racism and police brutality – was popularised in 2016 after NFL star Colin Kaepernick did so during the playing of the national anthem at the start of a game.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Kaepernick’s protests saw his career cut short, and, in 2019, he reached a settlement with the NFL after he alleged that owners had colluded to keep him out of the league.

‘Bitter mockery of the origins of the protest’

Schuyler Bailar said anti-trans movements such as this “co-opt the good intention of the public to further exclude and marginalise an already extremely vulnerable population”. 

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He added: “Appropriating the use of taking a knee to protest anti-Blackness and systemic racial oppression with the aim of advancing the systemic oppression of another group (trans people) not only makes a bitter mockery of the origins of the protest but is also disrespectful and discriminatory behaviour. 

“Trans people do not pose a threat to sports – transphobia does.” 

Trans athletes have no advantage in elite sport, report finds

An in-depth review, commissioned by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport – of all scientific literature published between 2011 and 2021 in English, regarding trans women and their participation in elite-level sports – concluded that trans women who have begun testosterone suppression have no clear biological advantage.

The research is supported up by the International Olympics Committee, which stated, in November 2021, that it no longer considers testosterone limits to be the most important factor in deciding whether trans women should be permitted to compete alongside cis women.

‘More than ironic’

Communications director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, Leroy Thomas, told PinkNews: “Appropriating a powerful symbol protesting the violence against a marginalised community, the Black community, and waging that symbol against another marginalised community, the trans community, is more than ironic.

“It is offensive, especially to the people who live at the intersection of both identities – Black trans people, who experience injustice at both ends. 

“While some attempt to protest trans people’s inclusion in sports in the name of ‘fairness’ and ‘justice’ for cisgender women, the truth is that women’s rights and gender justice organisations, including the Women’s Sports Foundation, overwhelmingly support inclusion of transgender women and girls in sports,” Thomas added.

“The real injustice is telling transgender women and girls that they don’t belong.”

The UCI has faced a wave of anti-trans anger since trans cyclist Austin Killips won a stage of the Tour of the Gila women’s race in New Mexico last month.

Following a management committee meeting on 4 May, the UCI confirmed it will reopen conversations about trans athletes participating in races. 

PinkNews has contacted Inga Thompson for comment.

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