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Philippa York: USA Cycling CEO's response to Arkansas anti-transgender laws is unacceptable

Philippa York
Philippa York (Image credit: Philippa York)

"It would be different if our athletes were going to be affected, but we don't believe they will be. There is a question around collegiate athletes if they're racing for their school."

Whenever I see statements like the above words of USA Cycling CEO Rob DeMartini I immediately think of the post-war confessional prose by Martin Niemoller and though the context here isn't the same, the basic sentiment is, and that's of people being classed as other. Just because you think you aren't affected doesn't make something OK, and for this to be the position taken by the top person of a major cycling organisation is unacceptable. It's why too many LGBTQ people feel that sport isn't for them. 

Even more worrying is the fact that USA Cycling is amongst the more modern thinking and acting governing bodies so I would have expected a thoughtful response and a positive move to show that everyone is welcome. Definitely not a brush-off comment that has seen DeMartini having to defend himself for what he describes as a poorly-worded statement.

Well the answer to that is: think about what you are saying and how it's going to be interpreted by those who are potentially affected by Arkansas' anti-LGBTQ laws.

A quick visit to Wikipedia shows this state's human rights laws to be pretty poor and brings up a number of issues which are not only going to affect the OZ Trails Pro Cup p/b Experience Fayetteville but future events that are also under the auspices of the UCI. They are holding a round of the Cyclo-cross World Cup later this year and then the 2022 UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships a few months later, which extends the scope of potential discrimination to a much bigger audience.

Things like the fact that Arkansas has no hate-crime law based on sexuality or gender expression, that medical practitioners can cite their religious beliefs to deny treatment to LGBTQ patients, that there is no anti-discrimination protection for the provision of goods and services or housing, that the gay panic defence is OK, and that there's no mandatory LGBT education. The current topic of banning trans girls from any sport because they may have a hormonal advantage runs alongside a ban on puberty blockers and hormone therapy that would stop that from happening.

Fayetteville is, of course, caught between a rock and a hard place in all of this because although they assure there won't be any problems or discrimination in their locality, the same can't be said for everywhere else. There's even been a legal challenge from the state to their ban on the various anti- discriminations that they had hoped to put in place as a county.

The only good thing to come with this story is the reaction from business and informed people that holding a sporting event under laws that actively exclude sections of the population from being part of that event is inherently wrong.

There may be no mandated LGBT education in Arkansas but that hasn't stopped people from recognising that equality of opportunity is for everyone, regardless of the individual differences. A lot had been made of attracting more people to cycling, of attracting more young people to become involved in all aspects of the sport from practitioners to supporters and allies. Essentially the young people who are at schools and colleges today can be the champions and leaders of tomorrow to which everyone can look up. 

Thankfully modern education systems and social media platforms allow them to be better informed and hold more inclusive opinions than have previously existed. They expect and demand that everyone has the same opportunities and they aren't afraid to say what they think and take action if they see injustices not being dealt with.

It's up to the administrators and sporting organisations to meet those expectations in how they react to situations like the present one, set policies and plan how to deal with similar issues in the future. No one is exempt, not the IOC, not the UCI and not the individual NGBs [national governing bodies - ed]. Choice of venue is going to be more and more scrutinised on the basis of whether all those present are treated with respect and dignity, and if they aren't, then saying or doing nothing is no longer acceptable.

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