Why does inclusion in sport matter?
Nine months ago the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission redeveloped and relaunched its guideline for sporting organisations on trans and gender diverse inclusion.
Since 2014 we’ve heard that sporting clubs and organisations don’t know how to bring trans and gender diverse people into sport, and that’s left an already marginalised and disadvantaged community excluded on the sidelines.
Our guideline shows clubs how to include trans and gender diverse people. But why does inclusion in sport matter?
We know anecdotally and from what research is out there that when trans people are meaningfully and respectfully included in sport, sport can help build our social, physical and bodily confidence.
Society often defines trans people by our bodies or reduces us to our physiques. In a way, sport can give us back control over our bodies and images.
Social confidence is just as important as anything else. Establishing and building on social connections and networks helps protect against social exclusion. For anyone, social exclusion can lead to disengagement, isolation and negative outcomes for everything from mental health to housing to prospects in life.
Building social, physical and bodily confidence is important, because as trans and gender diverse people, we are frequently and forcibly stripped of that confidence. Sport can help restore it.
The importance of sport
Sport brings people together, and that can – and should – include trans and gender diverse people. It always should. It’s only fair. Our existence does not warrant our exclusion.
Over recent years, we’ve seen initiatives to get more kids into sport or more girls and women into sport, and that’s because we recognise socially and even politically the importance of sport.
Apart from the many physical and mental health benefits of sport, people bond over sport, and they bond through sport. At its best, sport – particularly at the local level – reflects our communities. For some people, it represents community.
Sports and physical activities shouldn’t just be an add-on or extra to your life. The United Nations even considers discrimination-free access to sport and physical activity to be a fundamental right for all people.
Sport should never be something you can just be excluded from because of misinformation and discrimination.
But right now, misinformation and discrimination are why trans and gender diverse people are all too frequently excluded from sports and from communities.
A lack of understanding
We’re left out because of a lack of understanding, a lack of policies, a lack of consistency, and all too often a lack of leadership and willingness to let us in.
But there’s also a lack of guidance. Laws like Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act 2010 and the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 tell us more about how to leave people out than how to bring people together.
We can find guidance from places like Proud2Play, resources like our sport guideline, and gatherings like the Better Together conference. These places, resources and gatherings give us the tools, the knowledge and the confidence to change the conversation from exclusion to inclusion.
How to do inclusion
You have to be active about inclusion, because passive inclusion paves the way for exclusion.
Passive inclusion is saying you’re inclusive. Active inclusion is following through and making it happen.
Active inclusion involves getting resources like our sport guideline and using it to understand the issues and best practice.
Active inclusion involves breaking down knowledge barriers – even your own. Knowledge feeds into attitudes, and attitudes feed into actions. If you want to better understand what being trans is and means, you can check out the Trans 101 videos produced by Minus18 and Ygender.
If you’re a larger club, active inclusion absolutely involves training. The Commission and Proud2Play, for example, will run training on this in a few months. In other states and territories, link up with your local trans community organisation and see if they can run training.
If you’re a state or national organisation be ready to support clubs, particularly smaller ones. They’re going to have questions and, if you access training and resources yourself, you’ll be better prepared to answer them.
Active inclusion also involves having policies, procedures and structures in place. Policies help us deal with spectator abuse, ensure that systems and rosters and documents accurately reflect people’s genders and pronouns, and know how to maintain someone’s privacy.
But policies only work if they are consistent, if people follow them, and people implement them consistently. Consistency is crucial, because trans and gender diverse people should be able to trust that no matter what club they go to, they can expect a consistent level of respectful treatment and inclusion.
Where to from here?
It can be scary to think about how to include members of a huge, diverse community in your club. Our guideline helps you along the way. Inclusion is doable, even if it doesn’t happen overnight, and it should always extend to fair and respectful treatment of anyone from a minority, marginalised or disadvantaged community.
Changing the conversation from exclusion to inclusion isn’t easy. The key is to put people at the centre of your decisions and actions.
There is an adage that says, "There is no comfort in learning, and no learning in comfort". The same goes for the change to become truly, meaningfully inclusive and to create safe, respectful environments.
Change isn’t quick – and it often isn’t comfortable – but it’s only fair, and it can only result in better sporting environments and closer communities.
Jordan Fenton is a human rights advocate and researcher. She works at the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, and serves on the boards of the Minus18 Foundation and Proud2Play.