For Trans Awareness Week, Yoseph Kiflie talks to Natalie Washington about her work for Pride Sports, and how sport and sports media can be more LGBTQI+ inclusive.
“The only time I saw a transgender person in any sort of media was a murdered sex worker on CSI.”
Growing up, Natalie Washington didn’t see much positive media coverage of trans people. The few times they did appear usually involved someone transitioning later in life.
“You’d see a double-page spread in a tabloid newspaper with lots of pictures of that person all glammed up, but you could tell that it wasn’t necessarily there to make that person feel great”, Natalie told me.
“It was there as entertainment, saying ‘look at this strange person’.”
Such depictions have deep-rooted effects on how the public perceive trans people.
A YouGov survey done in June 2020 found that the majority of people do not think that trans people should take part in the sport of their gender.
Natalie is fighting to change this. She works for Pride Sports, who help sports organisations make spaces more inclusive for LGBTQI+ people.
Making Sport more Trans-inclusive
Today we are sharing our top tips for referees on welcoming trans people in football for #TransAwarenessWeek
— FootballvHomophobia (@FvHtweets) November 15, 2021
For Natalie, making sport more trans-inclusive goes hand-in-hand with making sport more inclusive for everyone. The fundamental requirements to achieve any form of inclusivity are interchangeable
“The behaviours and the skills around making yourself someone who’s easy to approach and treats people well are often the same.”
They include a desire to understand people better and listen to their needs, being able to coping with getting things wrong, and correcting situations when you’ve got something wrong.
That being able to handle setbacks is so integral is reflective of the fact that there’s no easy path to becoming an inclusive environment. This is not lost on Pride Sports, nor the sports organisations.
In Natalie’s experience, sports organisations are aware of the fact that they should be embrace inclusivity. It is them who approach Pride Sport, rather than the other way round.
This is no surprise to her, as she believes there are great incentives for sports to listen to Pride Sports.
Striving for #trans equality and inclusion in football. Everyday is a day to be the advocate we set out to be.
— Charlton Invicta FC (@CharltonInvicta) November 19, 2021
“Sports want to be inclusive. Sports measure their success and often receive funding based on the numbers of people are participating.
“If people are being driven away from the sport, because they don’t feel included, participating numbers reduce and sports get less funding. They end up being less relevant in terms of their influence on the global sporting stage of international sporting stage, and of course, no sport wants that.
Pride Sports having these conversations not only leads to organisations becoming more inclusive in the long term.
In the short term, before sport reaches full inclusivity, working with sporting bodies also allows Pride Sport to a safe place for LGBTQI+ athletes to turn to about their concerns.
They can do so because they are confident that Pride Sport will bring their issues to the necessary organisation’s attention.
“I’ve worked with athletes in a given sport, who’ve heard, experienced discrimination in terms of their eligibility to play as trans athletes, or seen situations where athletes have been exposed to homophobic language whilst playing this sport.
“So in those situations, those people will approach us. And we will listen to them, understand their issue.”
The fact that many athletes don’t feel comfortable enough to approach organisations directly highlights the work that still needs to be done to understand the needs of LGBTQI+ people.
That does not necessarily need to be a bad thing. Rather, the work needed represent the chance to teach people.
By getting them to understand the problem, from the perspective of those who have been abused and discriminated against, sports can develop the tools needed to create an inclusive culture for everyone.
“We can all make missteps in our lives and make people feel excluded without realizing. The strength comes from correcting that situation.
“Correcting that situation from something where somebody has got something wrong, to a situation where you’re making somebody feel included, again, can be quite powerful.”
Making Sports Journalism more Trans-inclusive
Natalie believes that the media plays a major part in helping sport become more inclusive, highlighting the impact that greater visibility has on young trans people wanting to go into sport.
“We’re not always represented fairly, we’re not always represented positively. We’re often represented very negatively. But we are seeing people.
“There are examples out there of trans people doing that. And that’s fantastic, because it’s very hard to be what you can’t see.”
Three trans athletes, Canadian footballer Quinn, American skateboarder Alana Smith, and New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, featured at the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
Quinn, who also identifies as non-binary, was won a gold medal, being the first out, transgender athlete to do so.
While recognising the significance of this moment, Natalie is keen to stress that there are more trans sporting stories out there. Stories at grassroot level, that can be equally as inspiring.
📸😀 Saw this photo of joy and allyship and was keen to learn the story behind it! @Paula_Griffin65 kindly spoke to me about finding @fc_goaldiggers, beating cancer, #comingout as trans in later life, & #DHFC. ⚽️🏳️⚧️
— Jon Holmes (@jonboy79) November 19, 2021
“I read a really lovely story quite recently about a trans woman who had transitioned quite recently, and was a regular at her non-league local football club.
“She’d gone along one time after she’d recently transitioned, and I think faced some abuse and discrimination. The football club were really good at kind of reaching out to her and inviting her into the clubhouse and making it safe for her.”
For her, the best way for trans people to be accurately represented in sport is to have more trans people working in sports journalism itself.
“Those stories are so much richer, if they’re told by people that understand that demographic, and have those genuine conversations with people so they understand where that person is coming from.”
However, being to understand trans people and have genuine conversations with them is not something that should be limited to those directly affected.
It is easy for cisgender people in the media to educate ourselves about trans issues, so that content is inclusive for all audiences.
Unfortunately, the education does not happen enough, and sports journalism suffers as a result of it. This was the case when Quinn first came out in 2020, with many publications still using her deadname.
Nearly every publication, including LGBTQ news sources, has used my deadname while reporting my story. The news matters and it’s crucial to write about trans people using their name & pronouns. Please do your research, change your headlines, and grow.
— Quinn (@TheQuinny5) September 12, 2020
When I asked Natalie about what her biggest piece of advice would be for sports journalists would be, she said:
“Avoid treating the trans identity itself as something exotic or salacious. It’s just another facet of the person, that sometimes means they might face some discrimination, and we shouldn’t erase that, but it’s not always relevant.”’
Hopefully if sports journalists take this advice to heart, the media coverage of trans people will be much more positive than it was when Natalie was growing up.
Find out more about Pride Sports here.