United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson once more stepped into a controversy over transgender rights, expressing support for the idea of a ban on transgender female athletes in women’s sporting competitions.
According to PinkNews, on June 29, while speaking to reporters at a “Commonwealth Summit” in Rwanda, Johnson gave tacit support to the International Swimming Federation’s (FINA) ban on trans swimmers, which bars any transgender female who has undergone male puberty from competing as a woman.
Under the new policy, released on June 19, the overwhelming majority of transgender individuals would have to compete in events designated for their assigned sex at birth. In the rare instances where a swimmer was placed on puberty blockers before undergoing the development of secondary sex characteristics, they still must provide paperwork proving that the level of testosterone in their blood has consistently remained below — and never fluctuated above — 2.5 nanomoles per liter since transitioning.
Asked about FINA’s ban, Johnson said: “I haven’t studied it in detail but I see no reason to dissent.” He added that questions of gender “raise particular problems” in regards to “the age at which you can deem it competent to transition, the question of safe spaces for women, and the difficulties you have with sporting competitions.”
Yet even the idea of a slim minority of transgender swimmers being able to compete because they never underwent male puberty — while technically allowed by the new policy — has been downplayed by FINA officials.
“They’re not saying everyone should transition by age 11, that’s ridiculous. You can’t transition by that age in most countries and hopefully you wouldn’t be encouraged to,” James Pearce, a spokesperson for FINA President Husain Al-Mussallam, told the Associated Press. “Basically, what they’re saying is that it is not feasible for people who have transitioned to compete without having an advantage.”
While supporters of FINA’s ban have promised to investigate the possibility of holding a third, gender-neutral competition at swimming competitions — in which transgender individuals would be eligible to compete — FINA has yet to release details explaining how such a competition would be set up.
The ban has been decried by many transgender athletes across the world. Transgender male triathlete Chris Mosier, the first transgender person to compete in the Olympic trials, wrote in a Twitter post how harmful the ban was.
“To require transgender athletes to ‘complete’ a medical transition by age 12 — particularly when it is increasingly difficult & in some states nearly impossible to get gender-affirming care — is outrageous & completely unrealistic,” Mosier tweeted.
Johnson’s latest comments add to an ongoing list of anti-LGBTQ statements or positions he’s taken over the years. Johnson has recently been criticized for “dragging his feet“ on LGBTQ rights issues and failing to outright ban conversion therapy for transgender people, choosing instead to only ban the practice with respect to sexual orientation.
Recently, his predecessor, former Prime Minister Theresa May — a fellow member of the Conservative Party — spoke out against Johnson’s choice to allow therapists to subject transgender people to conversion therapy without ramifications. May noted that transgender people “still face indignities and prejudice, when they deserve understanding and respect,” arguing that the UK government should ban the practice altogether.
Yet Johnson’s attitudes on transgender exclusion have found defenders among the government, notably Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Nadine Dorries, who published an opinion piece in The Daily Mail on June 26 urging all British sporting bodies to adopt even stricter bans on transgender participation.
“When I gather our own sporting governing bodies this week, I’ll be making it crystal clear that I expect them to follow suit,” she stated. “Competitive women’s sport must be reserved for people born of the female sex. Not someone who was born male, took puberty blockers or has suppressed testosterone, but unequivocally and unarguably someone who was born female. I want all of our sporting governing bodies to follow that policy.”