Stonewall criticises exclusion of transgender cyclist Emily Bridges

Bridges’ initial inclusion in the women’s event at the British National Omnium Championships sparked widespread debate.

George Sessions
Thursday 31 March 2022 18:32 BST
Emily Bridges was set to compete at the Derby Arena Velodrome in a women’s event (Tim Goode/PA)
Emily Bridges was set to compete at the Derby Arena Velodrome in a women’s event (Tim Goode/PA) (PA Archive)

Stonewall has criticised the “disappointing” decision to prevent transgender cyclist Emily Bridges from competing in the women’s event at the British National Omnium Championships and urged sport to do more for the trans community.

Bridges, who began hormone therapy last year, was set to compete in Derby on Saturday alongside five-time Olympic champion Dame Laura Kenny following recent changes to British Cycling’s transgender and non-binary participation policy.

Those plans have been thwarted by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), which informed British Cycling that the Welsh athlete was not eligible to compete in the women’s category under its current guidelines due to the 21-year-old still being registered as a male with the world governing body for cycling.

Liz Ward, director of programmes at campaign group Stonewall, said in a statement to the PA news agency: “It is disappointing that UCI have overruled British Cycling’s competition criteria, which Emily was in full compliance of.

“British Cycling had already extensively consulted on their trans-inclusion policy which is fully in line with International Olympic Committee guidelines. Our thoughts are with Emily who has trained hard and hasn’t been given a fair chance to compete in Saturday’s race.”

The initial decision to allow Bridges to race sparked widespread debate and British Cycling called for clarity across all sports surrounding the issue of trans athletes in a statement on Wednesday.

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston earlier this week said sport must be a level playing field for all, but accepted there is an “uncomfortable journey” ahead in striving to deliver inclusivity for transgender athletes.

Ward added: “While elite sport often dominates these discussions, it only makes up a tiny proportion of all sport played in the UK.

“We know that trans people are also under-represented in community sport and often feel excluded. Two in five trans people (38 per cent) say they avoid going to the gym or participating in sports groups because they fear discrimination and harassment.

“Sport has the unique power to bring us together and it’s important that trans people have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of sport without facing exclusion or abuse.”

Bridges first went public with the challenges she has faced with her gender in 2020 and started hormone therapy last year, but only in February she competed and won the men’s points race at the British Universities’ Championships in Glasgow.

Stonewall UK ambassador Amazin LeThi, a global LGBTQ+ advocate, believes it is unrealistic to expect the cyclist to pause her career while undergoing treatment and agrees with her right to compete in men’s competitions during her transition process.

LeThi told the PA news agency: “I think it is perfectly reasonable because she is an elite athlete.

“If they said you totally can’t compete at all, that is awful. I don’t think people realise when you are an elite athlete this is your life. You can’t just take out a year and come back to where you were.”

This week’s story involving Bridges follows an incident in the United States, where trans woman Lia Thomas won the 500-yard freestyle title at the women’s NCAA Championships but faced opposition during the medal ceremony.

Further criticism followed and World Athletics president Lord Sebastian Coe said in the aftermath: “The integrity of women’s sport – if we don’t get this right – and, actually, the future of women’s sport, is very fragile.”

After her own struggles with discrimination due to her ethnicity and sexuality, LeThi feels those views are down to a lack of information.

“We have to take care of their mental health because it is a complete witch hunt against trans people and non-binary people in sport,” she said, referencing Thomas and Bridges.

“When we look at the Olympics, we have been able to have trans athletes at the Olympics for years and there is no evidence trans athletes are dominating sports.”

LeThi would be against a specific category for trans people but believes a third option open to all competitors could work and be a step forward in the fight for equality.

“The problem with starting a separate category for trans athletes is that it is an exclusion still,” she explained on International Transgender Day of Visibility.

“I think you could have a third category that is open to everyone, like a neutral one where you could have trans athletes and also non-binary athletes.

“Basically an ‘other’ category that is so everyone can compete against each other. Having a separate category just for trans people does not solve the issue of trans inclusion in sport because it continually excludes them from sport.”

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