Editor’s note: This article details one of several impactful decisions made by USA Fencing’s Board of Directors during its annual summit in Colorado Springs. In order to give each decision the detail it deserves, we will be highlighting them individually throughout the week.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — USA Fencing has adopted a new Transgender and Nonbinary Athlete Policy, which can be read in full here.
The policy was developed by USA Fencing staff working in collaboration with elite athletes, members of the DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging) committee, our legal counsel, external professionals who specialize in LGBTQ and transgender inclusion, experts from Mount Sinai and medical working groups.
While participation requirements vary by classification (youth, cadet, junior/senior/veteran), the policy can be summarized like this: Athletes will be permitted to participate in USA Fencing-sanctioned events in a manner consistent with their gender identity/expression, regardless of the gender associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.
When it’s time to register for the season, athletes will be asked to register with USA Fencing as the gender with which they identify and wish to compete. This selection will be logistically binding, and athletes will not be permitted to modify their gender during the season. If the athlete registers as a gender other than their gender associated with the sex assigned at birth, they must adhere to specific requirements based on their age (youth, cadet, junior/senior/veteran). Youth transgender athletes will be permitted to compete without restrictions — they must do nothing beyond simply stating their identity. However, there are requirements for adult transgender athletes, which are outlined in detail in the full policy.
Nonbinary athletes are permitted to compete as the gender with which the athlete identified at the time of registration. However, if an athlete wishes to compete as a gender opposite from the gender associated with the sex assigned at birth, they must adhere to the guidelines for transgender athletes.
This move is an important first step toward expanding access to the sport of fencing and creating inclusive and safe spaces that promote equality and fairness for all.
But it’s also just that: a first step. We recognize that as new research into the participation of transgender athletes and the physiological effects of gender transition on athletic performance becomes available, we may need to re-evaluate and revise this policy in the future.
Our mantra in this space is therefore: progress, not perfection.
“It is critical that we protect the rights of nonbinary and transgender athletes in fencing,” says Phil Andrews, USA Fencing’s CEO. “Even as we plan to conduct more scientific research into the physiological effects of gender transition as they pertain specifically to the sport of fencing, we remain unanimously and steadfastly supportive of transgender athletes having their place in fencing.
“To be clear, even as this issue evolves, our support of transgender athletes will not waver.”
We acknowledge that USA Fencing’s previous policy placed considerable limitations that had the potential to exclude transgender and nonbinary athletes from competing in our sport. Additionally, enforcing a nanomole requirement for transgender women (MTF) had the potential to exclude persons not intended to be impacted by this policy (such as intersex individuals and others born with genetic gender deficiencies).
To correct these concerns, the members of the DEIB committee, legal counsel and medical working groups turned to the latest scientific data pertaining to transgender athlete performance broadly. And in accordance with our mission to foster a fencing community of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, the newly adopted policy put its focus on balancing fairness in the sport with the promotion of inclusion for transgender and nonbinary athletes.
For information on how this policy affects USA Fencing classification, national ranking (points), international competitions and more, we encourage you to read the full policy.
Please note that we are currently working with our database partners to implement the changes needed in the membership platform to reflect these updates. It is crucial we get these details right in order to ensure a positive member experience, while also making sure all of our processes on the competitive side for registration, rankings, etc. are functioning properly. We expect to be able to roll out these adjustments in the coming weeks.
In addition to our ongoing research into this issue, USA Fencing will partner with US Rowing to launch an LGBTQ+ Inclusion Training Series in February 2023.