Improving intersex representation in Durham sports


After the string of national disaffiliation campaigns, I am certain that we are all aware of the faults with the NUS. Amidst the constant infighting and the factionalism I have witnessed, it is becoming increasingly difficult to defend the NUS’s politics, but their work on minority liberation remains vital for so many students. During my first term as LGBT+a President, it was clear that a lot of LGBT+ liberation needed refocussing on the struggles of trans and intersex students, and this is not any more apparent than in sporting institutions.

Though Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign was successful, it was adopted by many student unions with the tagline of ‘kicking homophobia out of football’ with, once again, very little focus on trans and intersex students who are often excluded entirely. In many national university sports teams, some bound by external policy and others not, trans and intersex students are asked to disclose their legal gender or to present medical information, including details regarding hormone replacement therapy.

These demands act as barriers and can make sport inaccessible for trans students who choose not to medically transition and can alienate and prevent those who are medically transitioning from partaking in sport. Furthermore, intersex students can feel unwelcome in gendered sports teams altogether. As long as universities are demanding such information, sport can never be truly accessible for trans and intersex people. Medical transition is not a viable option for many due to health reasons, and hormone replacement therapy can result in an individual becoming sterile, which I’m sure we can all agree is a huge decision for a trans teenager to make.

After several meetings last term, not only did Team Durham agree to our new guidelines for trans and intersex students in sport, they expanded these guidelines to incorporate the entirety of Experience Durham. Joanna Gower, the Community Officer for Durham Students’ Union, led the way and wrote a detailed policy which is currently with our legal team here in Durham.

These guidelines state that trans and intersex students are able to compete and train in whichever team best fits their gender identity, except in football and rugby, where the individual is still able to train. The reason some students might be unable to compete in these sports is due to affiliations with external sources and therefore their policies – the FA and the RFU (Rugby Football Union) in these instances. These policies use inaccurate language and the ‘RFU Transgender and Transsexual Policy’, in particular, demands more from our students than the International Olympic Committee demands from world-famous athletes.

The policy which I submitted to the NUS National Conference aimed to mimic Durham’s new policy in a set of good practice guidelines, as well as lobbying external sporting institutions, to revise their outdated policies, or to create specific policies more appropriate for Higher Education. It has just recently been passed.

I am proud that Durham is leading the way in ridding university sport of its exclusionary demands, but, as much as I delight in the NUS’s support for our good practice guidelines, I am aware that it might be an ongoing challenge to encourage external sporting institutions to rethink their approaches to inclusivity. However, through education and opening a dialogue on ‘fair play’ and the science of trans and intersex athletes, I believe that with the NUS’s continued dedication to minority liberation, this is entirely achievable.

Wider reading: Data Protection Act 1998, Gender Recognition Act 2004, Equality Act 2010, ’s “Transgender Policy”, “The FA Policy on Trans People in Football”, “RFU Transgender and Transsexual Policy”

is an NUS Delegate and President of Durham University’s LGBT+a society.

Photograph by Dimitri Goderdzishvili via Flickr and Creative Commons

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