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Alberta policy on trans athletes spurs discussion among people with stake in competitive sports

After Alberta’s premier announced a new proposed policy regarding athletic competition restrictions on transgender athletes in the province, some people involved in sports and who have differing views on the matter say it is important that conversations are had about the issue.

Kimberly Daniels, a transgender woman in Calgary, is an international canoe official who has worked at World Cups, World Championships, Pan American Games and the Olympic Games.

“It just happened that I was the first transgender official to be in the Olympics — first out official,” she told Global News on Friday. “The support I got from the international sport community was amazing.”

She said she is hearing a lot of concern from the queer and transgender community about the policy, one of several policies related to gender identity and sex education that was first announced by Premier Danielle Smith on Wednesday.

Smith suggested transgender athletes can have advantages over their cisgender competitors.

“There are obvious biological realities that give transgender female athletes a massive competitive advantage over women and girls,” Smith said Wednesday.

Smith said she would like to work with sports organizations to create spaces and competitive divisions for women and girls where they do not need to compete against transgender female athletes.

She added that she also wants to make sure transgender athletes are able to “meaningfully participate in the sport of their choice,” suggesting Alberta may look at expanding gender-neutral or co-ed divisions.

“There’s definitely a lot of strong opinions,” Daniels said. “I think we’re going to hear and see a lot of discussion and discussion is positive.”

April Hutchinson is an Ontario-based powerlifter who has been prolific in her criticism of the Canadian Powerlifting Union’s policy on allowing transgender women to compete against women who have been biologically women since birth.

Last year she was handed a two-year suspension by the CPU for a code of conduct violation toward another member of the union.

“For exercising freedom of speech,” Hutchinson said on Friday, noting that the ban has been reduced to one year after she appealed it. “I do think they used the ban as a way to silence me.”

Hutchinson said the ban was after she continuously called the fellow athlete — a transgender female — a biological male. Prior to that, she had refused to compete against the athlete at a national competition because the athlete was biologically a male at birth.

“I would do it all over again if this means fighting for fairness in women’s sports.”

In August, Hutchinson spoke about Anne Andres breaking a national record for women’s deadlift at an event in Manitoba and called it unfair.

Hutchinson said she believes it is time to “have honest conversations” about transgender athletes competing against cisgender athletes in sports.

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“Males are just way stronger,” she said. “At the end of the day, we’ve never asked for anyone to be banned. Everyone has the right to compete in sports. That’s all we’ve asked for, a separate category.”

Global News reached out to Alberta Tourism and Sport to ask for a statement on the new proposed policy and if the government has data regarding how many transgender athletes there are in the province and how often they win competitions against cisgender athletes.

Kevin Lee, the press secretary for the ministry, said the department does not track this data but provided a statement in response to Global News’ email that echoed Smith’s comments.

“Alberta’s government will work with sporting organizations in the province to ensure biologically born female athletes are able to compete in a biological female-only division without having to compete against transgender female athletes while also expanding co-ed or other gender-neutral divisions for athletic competitions to ensure that transgender athletes are able to meaningfully participate in the sport of their choice,” Lee said.

“This will just apply to trans women and girls as there are biological realities that give transgender female athletes a competitive advantage over women and girls.”

Federal Sport and Physical Activity Minister Carla Qualtrough posted a response to Smith’s policy announcement on social media on Thursday.

“This is exclusion, not inclusion,” she posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “Trans rights are human rights. All kids have a right to be included in sport.

“As a policymaker and a mom, this means advancing policies that are inclusive and respect rights, not denying access to sport for ideological reasons.”

According to a 2022 review of scientific literature done for the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, a study into the biomedical argument that testosterone measures and boundaries, typically used to determine manhood and womanhood in sport, had inconclusive results.

The report found there is also little scientific understanding about how hormone-replacement therapy affects the athletic ability of trans women athletes.

“There is no firm basis available in evidence to indicate that trans women have a consistent and measurable overall performance benefit after 12 months of testosterone suppression,” the report reads.

The CCES study also noted that social factors have a greater impact on athletic performance than hormones.

“Researchers in the sociocultural field of study argue that social factors contribute to performance advantages to a far greater extent than does testosterone and that assessing testosterone levels is another way to perpetuate the long history of policing women’s bodies in sport,” the report reads.

“Researchers highlight the many social factors that contribute to differences in athletic performance, including, for example: discriminations, disparate resource allocations, inequities, and violence against women in sport in the forms of sexism and sexual violence in sport contexts, arbitrary differences in rules and equipment between men’s and women’s sport, as well as histories of barring women from certain sports.”

According to Statistics Canada, in May 2021, there were 59,460 people in Canada aged 15 and older who were living in private households that were transgender and 41,355 were non-binary.

Haley Daniels, a competitive canoeist who has fought for gender equity in her sport and more opportunities for female canoeists at the Olympics, is Kimberly Daniels’ daughter.

She spoke to Global News on Friday about Smith’s policy announcement.

“I’m frustrated because it was sudden and not vetted by people that are directly affected by it,” she said. “And that’s exactly like the women canoe fight that we had as well.

“I think that there’s so many people that just want to authentically live themselves, and so if we can just continue to allow everyone to just be themselves and continue to figure out how to work together and not legislate us and let us all have our own lives, I think that’s really important,” Haley Daniels said.

“I know when I was fighting for my right to go to the Olympics, I didn’t want to fight against the men, I didn’t want to fight against the canoe federations. … All I wanted was equal opportunity and to just be able to do my sport. And that’s what’s really important I think moving forward with this legislation.”

Ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Haley Daniels had fought to have the one canoeing competition for women increased to three at the Olympics, to be equal to the amount of competitions men had.

“Sport is the most exclusive space. We can have gender-neutral bathrooms, but there is a male category and a woman category in sport, and there’s no in between,” she said.

“I don’t know how I directly feel about non-binary and transgender athletes within the sport field, but what I do know is that there are some amazing professionals working on it right now and I think that it should not be legislated (by governments).”

She said she wants governing bodies in sport to make such decisions, and to do so by looking “at all the data and concrete evidence” and ensuring “everyone is heard and everyone has a space to compete.”

Haley Daniels said when her father transitioned to become a woman, “it was a shock.”

“But I’m so proud of her and what she’s doing, and I’m so proud of the people that have supported her and what she continues to advocate for,” she said.

“I can tell you that with anyone’s transition, the only thing you can do is support them. There’s no manual for a family member transitioning. And I think something that our family realized was that we just needed to continue to ask questions and be open, vulnerable and honest about how we’re feeling.”

While discussing the new proposed policy, Kimberly Daniels said “we want to protect our kids, we want to protect our athletes … (create) safe spaces for safe play.”

“I’m concerned about misinformation. … I did not choose to be transgender — I am transgender. At age seven, I knew that I was a girl trapped in a boy’s body,” she said.

“We need to educate people … so they understand what it’s all about and how they can be an ally. … We’re not a threat, we’re just different.”

Global News asked Canada Soccer for a statement in response to the Alberta government’s proposed policy on transgender athletes.

“Working to make our sport safer for all is a priority for our organization,” said Paulo Senra, a spokesperson for the organization. “The data shows us that many young girls, and athletes from lower income and within the 2SLGBTQ+ communities, drop out of sport at higher rates than their counterparts.

“We want soccer to be a sport where everyone feels they belong. To actively be passing policy — void of facts — creates even more barriers and is not how we build a fun, safe and accessible sports system in our country.”

–With files from Global News’ Adam Toy and Sarah Offin


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