This year’s This Kent Girl Can campaign included non-binary and trans women. The campaign organiser and our Sports VP, Emily Window, made this change, consulting inclusivity officers in the union in an effort to make sports clubs more welcoming to all. BUCS (British Universities Colleges Sport) revised its Transgender Policy in 2016 to include non-binary students in its sporting league. A stigma, however, remains regarding trans involvement in sport, especially in university sporting culture. I sat down with Sacha Allen, Kent Union’s LGBT Officer (Women’s Place) to discuss the barriers to LGBT involvement in sport.
Asked who she represents in her role in the union, Sacha says: ‘It’s all women but it’s sort of bridging the gap between [trans and cis women] because I don’t think there should be a bridge, I think there should be one playing field’. The union’s approach to tackling this issue is student-facing. As well as working with other officers in the union on LGBT involvement, Sacha engages with societies and clubs to make sure student voices are represented: ‘There is bound to be at least one LGBT person in any society, so it’s making sure they’re happy and involved and help them have a good experience at university. But it’s also making sure everyone else around them is aware and also has a good experience, because we’re all equal anyway so why not let everyone have the same experience?’
What exactly is stopping trans students from joining sports clubs? Sporting stereotypes have long been an issue, with sports like rugby seen as hyper masculine and clubs in general appearing as “cliques”. Pair that with a widespread misunderstanding of transgender issues, trans people are much less likely to join a sports club than any cis student. Sasha, however nervous about it, decided to join Kent Cheer last year: ‘Going in, I was very, very apprehensive with it because cheerleading you would assume that it would be very girly and they might not be good with it. But they were lovely. Everyone got me involved, not treating me any different.’
Joining a sports club has benefits in terms of health and fitness, but it also has many other personal benefits that many trans students may be missing out on because of this stigma. Sasha her personal experience with joining Kent Cheer: ‘I wanted to join because I didn’t have the typical experience that most girls have growing up because if you were cis female, you might get pushed for it, whereas in my situation, you don’t get that. I thought I’d get the chance to do it now, so I might as well go for it If you want to do something, just go for it. I made some really good friends and it helped me get involved but also be more open with myself this year.’
While the union is clearly making efforts to tackle LGBT+ involvement in sport, it is time for sports clubs to step up too. While it may be easy to notice from within that everyone is supportive of LGBT+ student joining, it is vital to advertise this and bring it to the attention of prospective members – at Fresher’s Fayre, through campaigns such as TKGC, and on social media pages. Sasha struggled finding information from clubs on whether they welcomed trans students without approaching them directly: ‘There’s always the fear of stigma, so I got the president of the LGBT society last year to email the president of cheer to ask if it was ok because I was so nervous. Looking back on it now, it seems silly but that’s really how bad it can be for some people and I really think that it would be great if clubs were just more upfront about it. I went around freshers fayre asking and everyone seemed to be fine with it but I don’t think that should be a thing, I think that everyone should actively show it in any way they can a.’
During last year’s Varsity, sports clubs signed the LGBT+ pledge to show that they were supportive of LGBT+ members joining. While this was certainly a step in the right direction, the signing of the pledge was only attended by committees, all done on one evening and was not discussed much thereafter. Therefore, most trans students would have been unaware of this pledge. Sasha wants to bring these kind of campaigns the attention they deserve: ‘Last year, from being trans myself, and a member of a sports team, I didn’t see much involvement with it. There were rainbow laces on shoes but that wasn’t a really big enough message.’
With the emphasis on trans inclusivity in the This Kent Girl Can campaign and the plans for a trans inclusive Varsity this year, does Sasha think these campaigns will work? ‘I think it can help as long as it’s done correctly, shown correctly, shown in a brilliant way. It’s about getting people to notice. This year I do think Emily is doing a brilliant job of actually working with us to try make people aware because it can get a bit lost in things. And maybe at Fresher’s Fayre in the future, we can have it on the bottom, just “all welcome”’.