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“Sick”, “upset” and “discriminated against” are just some of the words trans+ people used to describe how they are feeling after Sir Keir Starmer became the latest politician to back bans on their participation in sport. The leader of the Labour Party, who could soon be the next Prime Minister, has previously kept his distance from the issue, though has now confirmed that he is “supportive” of governing bodies moving to stop trans women competing in female categories. “I think the important thing is that the sports governing bodies take a lead on this,” he told Telegraph Sport on 11 March. “And they are doing that, and we’re supportive of what they’re doing, particularly in elite sport. So, that’s where the decision should be taken. They’ve taken a number of decisions. And, in the end, common sense has to prevail in terms of safety and integrity of sport.”

Despite there being a minute number of trans athletes participating in sport at an elite level, discussions around their involvement are rife in the media. Just last year, for example, one trans woman who finished 6,159th in the London Marathon dominated headlines for “beating” 14,000 other women who took part. With politicians now playing an active role in this discourse ahead of the upcoming general election, prominent figures within the trans+ community are warning of the “harm” this type of language causes to those who are already marginalised within society. 

“Sport and fitness is an essential part of health and wellness and should be accessible for everyone regardless of identity,” a spokesperson for Not a Phase, a trans-led, grassroots charity dedicated to awareness campaigning, social projects and funding new initiatives for the community, told GAY TIMES. “By using language such as ‘common sense’, these statements encourage the idea that anti-trans sentiment and exclusion is fair or even expected. The Labour Party has an opportunity to present a voice of inclusivity and respect but instead, these sorts of comments cause further harm to a community who are already under pervasive attack from the Conservative government.”

Shortly after Starmer’s comments were made public, GAY TIMES spoke to a number of trans and non-binary people about how the UK’s next potential leader’s comments made them feel. 

Charlie Martin, Racing Driver and Activist (she/her)

“Hearing yet another politician say we must follow common sense when deciding what rights trans people are allocated makes me so angry. ‘Common sense’ implies that trans inclusion in sport is well understood, believe me it isn’t. Very few people I’ve spoken with (including the media) understand the facts, research and statistics, so it’s facile and belittling to make such an arrogant statement. 

“I’m lucky that I compete in one of very few mixed sports. Even so it’s been tough making it as a trans woman in motor racing, one of the most male dominated and heteronormative sports out there. The biggest barriers I’ve had to overcome has been a simple lack of awareness and the acceptance that come with it. Nonetheless I’ve had some amazing support, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.

“Unfortunately, misinformation and fear mongering have polarised opinions to such an extent that it’s hard to have a rational conversation on this topic. Barely a month goes by without yet another governing body closing its doors to trans competitors, it’s hard to see how we can make our voices heard and turn things around. Sadly I think common sense left the chat a while ago, what we have now is anything but.”

Cambell Kenneford, Influencer (she/her)

“As a trans woman, hearing Keir Starmer use the words ‘common sense’ when it came to our bodies made me sick. These are the exact same words Rishi Sunak used when he said ‘a woman is a woman, and a man is a man, and it’s just common sense’. As a party which is meant to be liberal, I have completely given up on any political party to defend trans rights. Women’s rights need to be protected too, but women’s rights include trans rights. They come under the same umbrella.

“When I was at school, I was such a sporty and athletic person, I was top of my class, and when I started transitioning I put everything on the back burner. I now do nothing sporty because I have a genuine fear of being discriminated against when it comes to playing sports and getting involved.”

Tristan, Ambassador at Just Like Us and Research Assistant (he/him)

“As a trans person, I was actively discriminated against when engaging in sports in school. Despite the fact that it was a single-sex school, I was gradually barred from certain activities within PE, then sports clubs, and then finally, barred from any sports activity whatsoever. Every other student got to participate in Sports Day, whereas I was barred from taking part at all. This was most hurtful when it came to the sports I really loved – rowing and javelin.

“Even now, at university, I feel as though I cannot take part in the sports clubs I would like to in case I am harassed for being trans. I wouldn’t be able to participate in competitions with other universities anyways, as trans individuals cannot compete in British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) fixtures in the correct category. As a man, I would be forced to participate in women’s competitions despite having been openly a male for nearly seven years.

“Keir Starmer’s statement, and comments like these from politicians from across the political spectrum, only reinforce the daily struggle that trans people, and especially trans women, face. He supports a stereotype that trans women are not ‘real women’ (they are certainly real women!), and suggests that the inclusion of trans people is against ‘common sense’. How can people with national, even global, platforms, hoping for votes from the public, feel able to encourage discrimination against trans women and the trans community as a whole? This derogatory rhetoric contributes to the social exclusion of trans people. Sport should always be about inclusion, diversity and celebration, not discrimination, prejudice and exclusion.”

Ella Morgan, TV Personality and Advocate (she/her)

“For a trans kid in today’s current climate, to be made to feel like the outsider and essentially be told you are forced to participate with the opposite gender to who you are, is so uncomfortable and is not only soul-destroying, but can feel humiliating and hurtful. You aren’t being seen as the person you are and it feels like you are invisible and not seen or heard.

“As for the people who want to run our country or currently do, the effects these kinds of statements make can do such damage to a child who simply wants to play a sport with the same gender as them. It’s harmful to the young trans kids of today to write such detrimental headlines, not just because everything written is 99.9 per cent of the time negative, but also because it will stop kids from coming out and feeling comfortable enough to be themselves and express who they are in fear of judgement and bullying.

“If your own government doesn’t back you then what hope is any child going to have? Why is it that cis people have to be pitted against trans people? It’s sport. Let a trans woman play with fellow girls and let trans boys play with fellow boys. Simple. We are the gender we say we are. It doesn’t need to be this harming and divisive.”

Jude Guaitamacchi, Trans Rights Campaigner (they/them)

Paul Madeley

“When I’m asked what I think about trans+ people participating in sport, I am baffled that I’m even asked that question and that we’re even discussing who should and shouldn’t have the privilege of being included in sport at any level. I am even more disappointed that anyone could believe the answer is to further exclude some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our society.

Trans+ women are the frequent target of transphobic hate and anti-trans legislation in this country and as a trans masculine person I stand firmly with my trans+ sisters to say that this is not at all ‘common sense’, it is dehumanising, exclusionary, and another example of the ongoing and consistent attacks on trans rights in this country.”

Sarah Savage, CEO of Trans Pride Brighton (she/her)

“So much has been achieved towards making sport truly inclusive so it is disappointing to hear of the efforts to discourage the trans and non-binary community from taking part. The lazy talking points used are based on false assumptions, using transphobic tropes to stir up unease and fear about a tiny minority of trans sportspeople.

“Our community has said over and over again that we just want to get involved in what we love, sports, of all forms and we want to feel welcomed. Whether we are trying to get active by taking part in our local ParkRun or striving to compete professionally, sport should be inclusive of us all and that’s what we should be working towards.”

Dee, Activist, Ex-Teacher and Ambassador for Just Like Us (they/them)

“All young people deserve access to physical education, regardless of how they identify. I have witnessed first-hand trans and gender diverse pupils hiding in classrooms, or locking themselves in bathroom cubicles, because they did not feel comfortable enough in the sex-segregated class or changing room that they were placed in.

“I’ve had to accompany pupils to their lessons to ensure their participation and general safety. Sometimes they simply couldn’t bring themselves to play a sport because they had been assigned to a team that did not align with their gender, and they would watch as the other group played a sport they wished they could participate in. As a trans individual myself, I felt their desire to be included, but even my presence as a trans teacher wasn’t enough to help them feel comfortable during these lessons.

“The rhetoric in media and politics around trans people participating in sports will result in more young trans people avoiding PE, or school in general, losing out on vital education and experiences simply because they are not accepted for who they are.”

Paris Munro, Broadcaster and Presenter (he/they)

“It deeply upsets me that Keir Starmer is backing the banning of transgender athletes from women’s sport. If we think about people who are on HRT (hormone replacement therapy), taking HRT produces physical changes to the body that align with that person’s identity. Even though in this case, taking HRT changes the biological makeup of that person, why are they still not included? Please explain that? The government needs to lead by example, and it seems to me that Keir Starmer doesn’t know what common sense is.”

Borbon*, Ambassador at Just Like Us

“Who can take part in sports? Which bathroom to use? Really? Don’t politicians have many other economic and social issues to focus on?

“Again and again, politicians across the political spectrum seem to want a way to spread misinformation. Suppressing trans women in sports is just a reinforcement of a patriarchal narrative to suppress women in sports. We, trans people, have been excluded from many different social aspects of society, especially trans women. The stigma affects our relationships with people, access to services and our sense of self.

“I’ve felt this while in changing rooms, bathrooms and sometimes simply tagging along with non-queer people, where I felt I wasn’t able to fit in according to my gender identity. Feelings of discomfort and the little looks from people would make me feel like leaving the space as I would feel unsafe and uncomfortable.

“Is it too much to ask to be treated like a human, like any other person?”

*The real name of ‘Borbon’ has been changed for the purposes of this article.

Spokesperson for Not a Phase

“We’re disappointed to see Mr Starmer perpetuating the idea that Trans+ women pose a threat in any aspect of society. Sport and fitness is an essential part of health and wellness and should be accessible for everyone regardless of identity. By using language such as ‘common sense’, these statements encourage the idea that anti-Trans sentiment and exclusion is fair or even expected.

“The Labour Party has an opportunity to present a voice of inclusivity and respect but instead, these sorts of comments cause further harm to a community who are already under pervasive attack from the Conservative government.

“We hope that Mr Starmer and the Labour Party recognise this and take steps to de-platform the misinformation which is being spread by anti-Trans groups as a distraction from the real issues facing the UK.”