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Creating inclusive sporting environments

Everyone who wants a game, gets a game. That's a phrase that's been really important to me in participation at the club.

Sport to me is the space to be free.

Sport to me as an opportunity to challenge myself, to connect with other people who are also in that, in that same space wanting to do the same.

My sporting club has now actually become my family. Some of the women at this club treat me like I'm their daughter. There are other players that I treat like they're my daughters. It is the place where I feel most comfortable being who I am around the people I genuinely love.

This is a podcast exploring Sport Australia's guidelines for the inclusion of transgender and gender diverse people in sport.

My name is Eloise. In this podcast, I'll be discussing how to make a more inclusive sports environment at your club at whatever level of sport you participate. This podcast takes the Sport Australia guidelines for the inclusion of transgender and gender diverse people in sport and distils it down to the essentials. It's designed for people involved in the running of sports clubs, teams and organisations. It's designed for players, coaches, administrators and volunteers. And, it's designed for parents and families, those families who are trans and gender diverse and those who are interested in being more inclusive. If you want to know more, you can also check out the Sport Australia website at www.sportaus.gov.au.

This is Imogen.

I'm Imogen, I play AFL, I've played AFL my whole life since I was about 6, and I play with Macquarie University. In 2014 I had been playing this club for five years and I'd kind of I'd started transitioning for myself, not in a way that people in my club understood, but I started painting my nails and I had coloured hair. It was difficult for me, and at the end of the year I sat down with the president of our club who was one of the players on my team, and he said to me, “What are you doing next year, like, do you think you'll play again?” I said, “No, I don't think I can anymore. The culture is just too much for me and you know there's too much bullshit and I just can't deal with it anymore.” And he said, “You know I understand that, that's fair. But if you want to change that, then this is the place to do it.” And, it was really like a switch moment for me where I was ready to leave and I just kind of saw the potential, of what it would be like – well of having the support. You know from the president of the club to be able to make change.

Here are four basic points to remember when approaching inclusion of transgender and gender diverse adults and young people in team and club sport. Firstly, transgender and gender diverse people don't want or need you to feel sorry for them. They just want to access the same social, health and wellbeing benefits that are available to anyone else who is interested in joining a team or club. Like all sport, team and club players, members and participants, transgender and gender diverse people want to be the best version of themselves they can. They want to give and be given respect and most of all they want to be part of something that connects them with other people. Second point, transgender and gender diverse people experience high, frequent and constant levels of stress just by doing common everyday things: catching a bus; going to the shops; meeting new people; talking on the phone; joining or participating in a sports team or club. All these things have the potential for judgment, confrontation and even violence. This stress frequently leads to anxiety and depression, which in turn can lead to further social exclusion and isolation. Third point. So, while it's true that transgender and gender diverse adults and young people are prone to far higher rates of depression and anxiety, here's the most important thing to take away. Having safe, inclusive access to sport clubs and teams has a direct; even lifesaving benefit on transgender and gender diverse people and young people. Not only that, but research has shown that cultures of exclusion in sports clubs and teams negatively affect the wellbeing of all participants, not only trans and gender diverse people and youth, but anyone who is involved in sport. The physical, emotional, verbal, sexual and other types of abuse that gender diverse and transgender young people frequently experience, most often occurs because of a culture of rigid gender stereotypes. A culture very common to Australian sport and not just experienced by transgender and gender diverse people. Changing this culture is of immense benefit to the health and wellbeing of everyone involved in sport. And finally, it's important to say it's no more possible to separate a transgender and gender diverse person from who they identify as, than it is to separate anyone else from their core sense of self. Nor is it anyone's job or responsibility to do that. And it's especially true that no one should be required to prove who they are to be included in sport and community activity.

The Sport Australia guidelines for the inclusion of transgender and gender diverse people in sport outlines six aspects of sports clubs and organisations that need review.

These are:

1. collecting and using personal information

2. inclusion

3. a code of conduct

4. facilities in change rooms

5. uniforms

6. leadership.

Each one of these is important, so we'll take the time to discuss.

My name is Emily Fox. I am a woman who is a mum who loves playing football and happens to be transgender and I play football with the St Kilda shocked women's football club in the South East Women's Football League in Melbourne. So I was fortunate that I was able to change my gender on my passport and use that as an identity marker to get access to my football club, and I’m more than willing to use that, but I also know other people who have haven't had the financial means or the ability to access services to change their gender markers legally and because of that they have not been allowed to participate in sport.

The collection of personal information by sporting organisations can create additional difficulties for transgender and gender diverse people. Here are the most important steps to take to be more inclusive of transgender and gender diverse players and participants. Firstly, personal information should only be collected with a player's consent or in the case of children, with parental consent. Organisations should implement structures and safeguards regarding the collection and use of personal information, particularly where it relates to name and gender. Only request personal information and legal documents when necessary for a legitimate aim of the organisation. Consider accepting a legal declaration to verify name age and gender. For example, a statutory declaration. Provide the option of selecting a non-binary gender identity and a gender non-specific title on registration forms. Provide preferred name and pronoun options on registration forms. Securely store personal information in line with standards prescribed by privacy legislation. Importantly, do not disclose the transgender or gender diverse status of a player without their express permission and ensure that correct names and pronouns are used in conversations, databases, documents and correspondence. Be aware too, that depending on the circumstances, requesting additional information from transgender and gender diverse people may be inappropriate and even in some cases unlawful.

My name is Chris, and I'm involved in sport at the moment because I have a child Jackson who plays sport so I'm involved as a parent and as a volunteer at his club and he plays AFL for the Glebe Greyhounds.

So the first time that Jackson played in the club, we were invited to join a team by a friend of ours, and I think that's how inclusion works. What I saw in the club was a very strong inclusion of the girls game that was just beginning to take off there with a lot of girls teams, starting off with one girl's team in the club. That's one of the things that made it very easy for me to go to the club at the point that Jackson then wanted to play in the boys teams and say to the club, “this child is now a boy and he would like to play in the boys team, would that be okay”. And the club very quickly said, “Yes, of course, that would be fine to do that. Let's work out how we make that happen.”

Inclusion policies particularly when publicly available, help transgender and gender diverse people identify those sporting organisations that are welcoming. It also helps encourage transgender and gender diverse players to remain engaged in sport throughout their transition or gender affirmation. Importantly, it can provide guidance to staff and volunteers at a sporting organisation on how to include transgender and gender diverse participants and help staff and volunteers respond appropriately to any issue that may arise. Beyond a sense of inclusion, everyone who participates in sport has the right to expect an environment free from violence and harassment.

Everyone who wants a game gets a game. That's a phrase that's been really important to me in participation at the club. It's been a real touchstone for me, something to go back to when I think about what will happen or what might happen. I first saw that phrase written on the back of the clubhouse doors as a big statement about what the values are for the club and, ‘Everyone who wants a game, gets a game’ heads up those values. And when I read it there I remembered that I'd heard it heard it said quite a lot, particularly by the president and I'd internalised that as part of what it was to be at that club. So when Jackson decided that he was going to transition and was going to play in the boy’s team, that's what I remembered, ‘Everyone who wants a game, gets a game’, and that really helped me then go to the club and say, “Can we make this happen” and they said, “Yes we can”.

Some transgender and gender diverse individuals experience harassment when they participate in sport. A code of conduct should include a commitment to create a harassment free environment and an inclusive culture within the sport. It should also outline how the organisation will allocate roles and responsibilities to support this. A spectator code of conduct should also be developed and should clearly communicate to spectators that the sport has a zero tolerance policy for harassment and outline how harassment by spectators will be dealt with. Such a code can be displayed at venues where training and competition takes place.

It's so important, especially with my football that I have full access and there's no exceptions to me being able to be in the change room with all the other women I play football with.

To help transgender and gender diverse people participate in sport, it is important that a club or organisation have appropriate facilities.

Often the first question I'll get asked by people who ask me about my football is, where do I go to get changed and it would be horrible if I had to get  isolated and  changed on my own because before the game, we all get together, get changed together, we talk about our plans as a team together and then afterwards the game if we're fortunate to win we all get to go back into the rooms together and then circle and sing a song to celebrate. I might be perceived as different from the other women, but the women in my club do not see me like that; I'm just another team-mate, I'm another player; and it's so important to feel like being part of that group, by being allowed there and not being told that you're not allowed to be part of that space.

While many transgender and gender diverse people prefer to use bathrooms showers and change rooms that align with their affirmed gender, there is also a strong preference for privacy. This is the case for many people regardless of their sex or gender identity. People who identify as non-binary may prefer to use unisex or gender neutral facilities. Transgender and gender diverse people have also reported experiencing harassment and violence while accessing bathrooms. Such experience emphasises the need to provide inclusive facilities. Changing the signage on some of the facilities to unisex and/or gender neutral, modifying change rooms and bathrooms to create private spaces, and ensuring that all change rooms have sanitary bins, can make facilities welcoming and inclusive of everyone. When new facilities are built or existing facilities are being upgraded, there is an opportunity to make these inclusive by creating private spaces, so that people can change, shower, and use the toilet safely and comfortably.

Uniforms. All players should be able to play in a uniform in which they feel comfortable. While a uniform is an important part of sport, particularly team sports, players should be provided with an appropriate range of uniform styles and sizes. Sporting organisations can make the uniforms more inclusive by considering whether different men's and women's uniforms are necessary for their sport. If gendered uniforms are necessary, then sporting organisations should allow players to choose which uniform they would prefer to wear, ensuring that appropriate sizes are available and design options that are suitable for different body types and shapes.

Finally, and most importantly, leadership.

My name is Bowie Stover. I am a non-binary athlete.

About six months after I started practicing Brazilian jujitsu at my school I felt comfortable enough to approach my teacher Dave and share with him that I was non-binary, because I trusted that he would be pretty cool about it and I wanted to be able to be myself and kind of just allow the space to accommodate me. So, I went up to Dave and he was standing there and I said, “Dave, I need to tell you something. I'm non-binary.” He kind of looked at me, “So I’m like, so it’s transgender, like I don't fit the gender binary. I don't feel that I'm female, I also don’t feel I’m male, I feel like I'm neither and that's how I fit in this space. So I use they/them pronouns. I don't use female identifying pronouns, and he kind of nodded.

And he looked at me and said, “It’s all gravy Bowie. Everyone is just a bag of guts to me. Some people are big bags of guts. Some people are small bags of guts. But you can take them down all the same, you just have to use a different technique sometimes." Hahaha, so I was like, “Oh, thanks Dave”. It was quite reassuring to be told that I was a bag of guts because it was just his way of saying like, that it doesn't matter what your gender is you'll be welcome here and that's okay. And since then he's respected my pronouns. He only ever uses they/them pronouns on me or he uses my name and says it in front of other people when we roll or anything like that. So it meant a lot. It really was the first time in a sport where I've just been openly accepted for who I am.

To ensure that sports are inclusive of transgender and gender diverse people, it is essential that those who lead sporting organisations – the board, management committee and executive, are committed to the inclusion of transgender and gender diverse people, and take active steps to educate players, coaches, staff, volunteers and members about this commitment. Sporting organisations should also consider enlisting support from prominent players, parents and coaches in the form of champions.

In 2017, two women from the St Kilda Sharks football club – pretty much the heart and soul of the St Kilda Sharks – the women who have been part of the club since the inception and seen generations of women come through that club, they came to me personally and said that they saw me as a special person, an individual that they needed in their club. And it was impossible to say no to that, because when you've got some incredible people, some of the most important people in women's football in history saying that they want me to be a part of a club; regardless of whether I'm transgender or not; it was just they saw something in me as a person that they wanted me in their club. And I couldn't say no to that. And I've been so lucky now that I've been in this club and all my closest friends are my team-mates and my coaches, and the women who invited me in and I'm never going to forget that, that is one of my special things this ever happened to me in my entire life.

At the start of this year I got a phone call from my coach who just said to me, “Hey Imi, I just want you to know that I'm aware of the fact that a lot of the time we're not inclusive of you and we address the team and say you know I hate boys or lads, that type of thing", and he just acknowledged that that wasn't inclusive for me. And, we had a conversation about what that might look like to improve and he said," you know do you want me to address the club, and just make the point that we want to be more inclusive" and I said, “God no, that would be so awkward for me”.

There's been a lot of information covered in this podcast, but here's a checklist of the most important points to take away.

There are 10 basic questions to ask when building a more inclusive sports club or team.

1. Does your sporting organisation have inclusive information collection processes and the safeguards to ensure the information that is collected is kept private and confidential?

2. Does your sporting organisation have a publicly available inclusion policy, which specifically promotes the inclusion of transgender and gender diverse people, clearly articulates that participation in sport should be based on a person's affirmed gender identity, and not the sex they were assigned at birth, to the fullest extent possible?

3. Does your sporting organisation provide guidance to staff and volunteers on how to include transgender and gender diverse participants and respond appropriately to any issues that may arise?

4. Does your sporting organisation have a code of conduct that outlines a zero tolerance policy for the harassment of transgender and gender diverse people?

5. Does your sporting organisation provide appropriate education and training to staff, players and volunteers about identifying, addressing and preventing the harassment of transgender and gender diverse people?

6. Are your sports organisations existing facilities inclusive?

7. Does your sporting organisation provide players with an appropriate range of uniform styles and ones that cater to different body shapes?

8. Have you made a commitment to the inclusion of transgender and gender diverse people in your sporting organisation?

9. Do you take active steps to educate your staff, coaches, players, volunteers and members about including transgender and gender diverse people in your sporting organisation?

10. Do you have a champion for transgender and gender diverse inclusion in your sporting organisation?

For clubs, teams and sporting organisations looking to make themselves more inclusive for transgender and gender diverse players and participants, there is far more information available in Sport Australia's Guidelines for the inclusion of transgender and gender diverse people in sport. You can find a copy of the report, as well as other helpful resources at www.sportaus.gov.au

Production and research has been by Ryan Storr, Cris Townley and Eloise Brook, with assistance from Kerry Robinson and Cristyn Davies. Special thanks to Imogen Brackin, Cris Townley, Emily Fox and Bowie Stover.

Writing, engineering, music and hosting has been by Eloise Brook.

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