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By Hannah Smith, Oct. 26, 2021

On Oct. 15, a social justice organization at CPP, Weglyn Endowment, held the seminar “How We Got Here: Awareness, Advocacy, & Allyship with Transgender Athletes.” The event featured a panel of transgender and nonbinary former college athletes sharing their experiences in sports and answering attendees’ questions. 

Co-hosted with Athlete Ally, an organization fighting for equal access in sports regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression, the overarching theme of the event is to acknowledge the significance of sports as a vehicle for change, according to the webinar panelists. 

“I believe that so much,” said panelist Emet Marwell. “I love that because it really is. We’re in this moment where especially with the state legislatures, it’s been so terrible and damaging and it’s also an opportunity for us to use our platform as athletes to really take concrete steps and share why we’re important. We’re all human.” 

Led by moderators Jenna Weiner and Ryan Socolow from Weglyn Endowment, the event facilitated a question-and-answer session between participants and panelists. The panel was composed of Emet Marwell, the policy and programs manager for Athlete Ally, Shane Diamond, the impact campaign manager for “Changing the Game” and Yeja Dunn, an Athlete Ally ambassador and Beantown Rugby Football Club player. 

Anna Baeth, director of research for Athlete Ally, expressed that an enormous amount of effort was poured into organizing the event with Weglyn. 

“We really wanted to host an event where we could talk about something that was timely and something that I think we all agree is imperative to athlete’s experiences and to the current cultural climate of the United States,” said Baeth. “In the last year we have seen an onslaught of bills at the state level opposing transgender youth participating in sports and so we felt like it was a really relevant topic and something that we are pretty concerned about.” 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbot recently signed a bill forcing both K-12 and collegiate level student athletes to play for teams that correspond to their sex assigned at birth. Due to this, Texas is now the 10th state to impose a law which restricts transgender students in school sports. 

A main focus of the webinar discussion, panelists expounded on the repercussions of the recent Texas event and how their own lives are related. 

Socolow shared his story as a transgender man, emphasizing the effects gender separation in sports has had on him personally, specifically in the male-dominated lacrosse culture.  

“I would consider myself very fortunate I didn’t have anything deeply traumatic happen to me during that time,” said Socolow. “I’m hopeful now that there are other trans athletes that will have an easier journey than I did because of that self-education and that advocacy work.” 

Panelists also discussed the ramifications of gender division in sports for cisgender athletes as well. The 2021 NCAA basketball championships shed light on the disparity between the opportunities and resources the men’s and women’s teams of the same sport are given. 

“In the March Madness tournament this past year it blew up on Twitter,” said Diamond. “There were drastically more resources available to the men’s athletes than to the women’s athletes and that’s not unique to college basketball.” 

A later question submitted by sociology student Kaitlin Diaz prompted panelists to address the ways in which misinformation regarding transgender athletes can be combatted.  

“When we’re often talking about trans exclusion policies, when we’re talking about anti-trans legislation, a lot of the focus is on younger folks,” said Weiner. “At that level, there is simply not enough there to say that there are clear advantages or disadvantages one way or another. People should just be allowed to play sports.”  

While setbacks for transgender athletes were discussed, the webinar also centered around progress made in recent years. The Premier Hockey Federation, which was formerly known as the National Women’s Hockey League, changed its name in 2021 and is now allowing transgender and nonbinary athletes to play in the league. This change was made in a partnership with Athlete Ally.  The organization helped educate the Premier Hockey Federation to ensure its name change was not simply performative but promoted inclusivity within the league. 

As the webinar provided students with the opportunity to learn about allyship with transgender athletes and the LGBTQIA community as a whole, Weglyn Endowment Chair Mary Kunmi Yu Danico shared her excitement for future events meant to educate the CPP community. 

“I think it’s a beginning of a wonderful conversation,” said Danico. “It’s definitely not the last.” 

To learn more about upcoming events visit the Weglyn Endowment website 

For more information on Athlete Ally, visit their website 

A recording of the webinar can be found on Youtube.

Featured image courtesy of Oriel Frankie Ashcroft

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