The Oregon Bicycle Racing Association (OBRA) has decided that one of their board members accused of “pervasive transphobia” can remain on their board of directors.
At-large OBRA board member and three-time Olympic cyclist Inga Thompson has come under scrutiny from some OBRA members who feel her conduct discriminates against transgender athletes. Thompson works closely with a group named Save Women’s Sports and was featured in an article published on their site in October titled, Male athletes are taking over women’s cycling.
In October Thompson represented Save Women’s Sports at a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C.. The rally aimed to “preserve women’s rights” and prevent the Supreme Court from including “gender identity” in the legal definition of “sex”. If that happened, the group worried that, “Any male could self-identify as a female and compete against women at every level of athletics, which would effectively destroy women’s sports.”
“The board recognizes how some of Inga’s actions and communications around this issue could be seen as problematic and hurtful to some in our community.”
— OBRA Board of Directors
Thompson is also working to prevent transgender females from competing in the elite women’s category. In a letter she sent to the International Olympic Committee (IOC, who recently delayed new transgender guidelines), Thompson thinks the solution is a separate category. “It’s unfair for Transgender XY Women to compete against XX Women in sports,” she wrote, “Many more XY Women would compete if they knew it would be a fair playing field.”
Last month, Portland bike shop owner Rachel Cameron accused Thompson of “pervasive transphobia” and launched a petition (which has 478 signatures so far) to have her removed from the OBRA board.
One of the signatures on that petition belongs to Dr. Rachel McKinnon (@SportIsARight), a World Champion track racer who was born male but is now legally a female and competes in the women’s category. In a New York Times op-ed published last week, McKinnon wrote, “I’m legally female… Trans women are women. We are female. And we are not taking over.”
The OBRA Board of Directors looked into the issue when members found Thompson’s proposal to be “problematic”. They announced in an email Monday afternoon that Thompson will not be removed.
Here’s more from their statement:
“Our commitment to upholding OBRA’s rules and policies, as approved by our membership, supersedes any personal views or opinions of any board member. It is our duty to defend OBRA’s rules regardless of our personal opinions of them.
After a lot of discussion around Inga’s proposal to the IOC [International Olympic Committee] and her actions around that proposal, the board has decided on the following:
— The board understands the intent of Inga’s proposal is to add an elite category for women that are currently being excluded from the women’s field by the IOC’s, and OBRA’s, transgender participation policy. The board found that this proposal does not pose a conflict of interest with the organization’s rules, mission or statement of diversity.
— The board recognizes how some of Inga’s actions and communications around this issue could be seen as problematic and hurtful to some in our community. We will be working, as a group, to better educate ourselves around these issues, including participating in SafeSport training, leadership education, and diversity, equity and inclusion training.
— The board feels that Inga’s experience as a pioneer in women’s cycling, including her personal experience of discrimination in sport, is an asset to the board. The board decided to not remove Inga from the Board of Directors.”
OBRA added that their board had, “Varied personal opinions around this, and the conversation highlighted our differences.”
“It is disappointing that Inga doesn’t see fit to resign… She clearly does have a conflict of interest, and it’s sad that she can’t see that.”
— Rachel Cameron
In a message to BikePortland today, McKinnon responded to OBRA’s decision as, “Overtly transphobic and in clear violation of OBRA’s policies and principles.” McKinnon is referring to OBRA’s diversity policy which reads (in part), “We strive to create an environment in which everyone feels valued and respected.”
Reached via email for her response, Cameron said, “It is disappointing that Inga doesn’t see fit to resign… She clearly does have a conflict of interest, and it’s sad that she can’t see that. I’d love to see her delete her posts related to the IOC letter she sent, and also stop retweeting dangerous misinformation on Twitter if she is going to remain one of the decision makers for OBRA.”
Cameron is referring to a string of anti-transgender comments posted to Thompson’s personal Facebook page (that she later deleted after OBRA board leadership was notified) and the most recent tweet from the Inga Thompson Foundation Twitter account that is a retweet of someone referring to transgender athletes as “male”, a form of misgendering.
“At this point it’s not even about transgenders, it’s this rad femme group. The transgenders I know are all very reasonable, very good people.”
— Inga Thompson
In a phone interview from her eastern Oregon cattle ranch last night, Thompson said she aims to be more inclusive of transgender athletes, not less. “My feeling is that asking a transgender to take hormone suppressing drugs just to compete is not right. Why can’t they identify as a woman and still race?” Thompson was referring to current International Olympic Committee and OBRA elite competition transgender guidelines that allow people who’ve transitioned from male to female to compete in the women’s category; but only if they have a minimum level of testosterone in their blood of 10 nmol/L for at least 12 months prior to their first competition (and remain at or below that level).
“In order to stay within those guidelines, you have to take hormone suppression,” Thompson said, “And my feeling is you are excluding a whole class of athletes that want to identify as a woman but don’t want to sacrifice their health.” Her proposal would leave the women’s category “untouched” and create an “open women’s category” that would also include women who take hormone therapy for health reasons.
Thompson says her motivation is to help OBRA boost its number of women racers. She believes a 20% dip in women’s participation is related to the transgender issue and a small group of members she refers to as the “rad femmes” (short for radical feminists). “The problem with OBRA right now… is because you have the rad femme group that terrorizes a lot of people and the OBRA board is not willing to deal with this. This group targeted three members of the OBRA board, so they’re scared… And a lot of people don’t race because of this rad femme group and OBRA itself is complicit for allowing this to happen,” Thompson said. “At this point it’s not even about transgenders, it’s this rad femme group. The transgenders I know are all very reasonable, very good people.”
“I’m a woman brave enough to speak out,” she continued. “Most people won’t speak out due to fear of being labeled a transphobe.”
And many transgender/non-binary people fear that racing in a separate category would jeopardize their privacy and put a dangerous target on their back — a fear that’s not unfounded in a society where gender discrimination and hate crimes are common. When I asked Thompson about this, she went back to the “rad femmes” theory. “Why do the rad femmes not want more inclusion of transgender women? I find it really interesting that they won’t support the women that choose not to do hormone suppression therapy.”
When I asked Thompson about the Save Women’s Sports article that stokes fear about athletes like Rachel McKinnon “taking over”, Thompson distanced herself from the article and the organization. “I’m not Save Women’s Sports, I’m part of it, but that doesn’t mean I agree with everything,” she said. And despite the fact that a photo and a quote of her appears in the article, Thompson claimed she wasn’t aware of it. When I read her quote back to her (“I feel that the International Olympic Committee and USOC will do nothing until there are no more biological women on the podium”) she said it was a misquote and that she was commenting on the IOC’s stance, not her personal views.
“Separate but equal is inherently unjust. Inga is knowingly spreading irrational fears of trans women in sport, which is the dictionary definition of transphobia.”
— Rachel McKinnon, PhD and 2X World Champion track racer
For her part, McKinnon is not a fan of Thompson’s separate category idea. “Separate but equal is inherently unjust,” McKinnon share with me today. McKinnon feels cis women (those who identify with their birth gender) aren’t excluded by including trans women. “Creating a cis-woman only category necessarily excludes trans women. Inga is knowingly spreading irrational fears of trans women in sport, which is the dictionary definition of transphobia.”
Asked whether she feels Save Women’s Sports is a transphobic organization, Thompson avoided a direct answer and said her involvement with the group is for networking. “It’s about getting feedback from all people. Because of involvement from all sides, one can find a balance in the middle to have fair play and inclusion of all.” Pressed for an answer, Thompson said, “Beth [Stelzer, the organization’s founder] believes in protecting women.” When I asked if it’s possible to adhere to OBRA’s inclusivity bylaws while working with Save Women’s Sports, Thompson again didn’t answer directly. “You need to be asking the hard question from the activists as to why they don’t support more inclusion and forcing transgender women to take hormone suppression,” she replied.
At this point, Thompson said she feels the unanimous vote of support from the OBRA Board validates her proposal. “They might not have liked the way I got there, but if no feelings get hurt you have not had a true open discussion.”
For OBRA member Rachel Cameron, Thompson’s work and statements thus far have been “hurtful and harmful” to trans athletes. “OBRA saying that she has experience with discrimination in sport, while she is actively trying to discriminate against trans women, feels disingenuous.” Cameron says she’ll now focus on the two open OBRA Board positions opening next month. “I’m going to focus my energy more on getting allies on the board, and less on getting Inga removed.”
*OBRA has an adopted policy on transgender athletes which you can read here (PDF, begins on page 103).
UPDATE, 12/12: OBRA just announced that Inga Thompson has resigned.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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