The new policy centers inclusion at all levels of play overseen by the national governing body.
December 18, 2020 by Mags Colvett in News with 0 comments
Disclosure: The author contributed to developing USA Ultimate’s new Gender Inclusion Policy and proposal.
USA Ultimate has announced a new Gender Inclusion Policy, allowing players at all levels of competition to play in the gender division in which they are most comfortable, regardless of sex assigned at birth, identification within a gender binary, or any other form of gender identity or expression. The policy is effective immediately, replacing a previous transgender policy adopted in 2018.
“Within our divisions as they currently exist, USA Ultimate will not discriminate on the basis of gender identity, regardless of sex assigned at birth, or any other form of gender expression for participation in any division,” the policy states. “We affirm that people of all gender identities should have the freedom to participate in USA Ultimate sanctioned or championship series events in the division in which they feel most comfortable and safe based on their gender identity and should be recognized, respected, and included at every level of the sport.”
The announcement appeared on an expanded Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion page on USAU’s new website earlier this week. The policy highlights inclusion as the organization’s highest priority, aligning with the guiding principles laid out in their current Strategic Plan.
While the former transgender policy provided a framework for trans and non-binary players to compete within gendered divisions, the current policy recognizes explicitly that the men’s, women’s, and mixed divisions may not adequately reflect all players’ identities or the settings in which they feel most safe or included. Players are now welcomed to participate in the division that feels “most comfortable and safe based on their indicated gender identity,” rather than on a basis of best match with an existing gender category.
Additionally, the new policy does not require any medical interventions, such as hormone replacement therapy or surgery, for any player to be eligible to play in any gender division at any level of competition sanctioned by USAU, nor does it restrict participation in any gender division based on medical transition status. The former policy placed medical restrictions on play at competitive events1 in the women’s division or as a player contributing to the female ratio in the mixed division, requiring twelve months of hormone replacement therapy for trans women and barring any player taking testosterone from those categories.
The Gender Inclusion Policy was approved unanimously by USAU’s Board of Directors in November. It joins existing policies from Ultimate Canada, UK Ultimate, and the European Ultimate Federation that allow athletes to compete in events sanctioned by those bodies in the gender division that best fits their identity regardless of medical transition status or sex assigned at birth.2
USA Ultimate “strongly recommends” that all local organizers, leagues, tournaments, and other events in the country adopt the policy as written. However, the organization acknowledges that this policy does not extend to cover international or multi-sport events that are organized by other governing bodies. Tryouts for US National Teams competing at World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF) events are still subject to the WFDF Transgender Policy, which restricts participation based on medical transition status and requires documentation and testing for players receiving hormone therapy. This aligns with the current International Olympic Committee (IOC) standards and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) restrictions on multiple substances used for these treatments.3 The IOC is expected to publish updated transgender guidelines following the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
The one-page policy is supported by a fuller proposal submitted to USAU’s Board of Directors and available online. Both documents were created by a team including USAU EDI co-chairs Julia Lee and Larry Melton as well as Community Liaison Volunteers Ashleigh Buch and Kellan Gibboney, with additional input from Mags Colvett and Jack Verzuh. The proposal collects research and recommendations developed over the last year, concluding that medical restrictions intended to regulate perceived competitive fairness issues are not well-supported, and establishing the basis for a policy grounded in openness and accessibility rather than creating more barriers for already-vulnerable groups.
“We have an opportunity to focus on inclusion for all athletes, including those most marginalized by society. Let’s choose inclusion,” it concludes.
According to the proposal, the policy marks an effort to make ultimate — both its culture and its competitive opportunities, including at the highest levels sanctioned by USAU — fully available to people who often feel uncomfortable or unsafe in traditional sports environments, or who are discouraged from playing sports at all because they don’t see a place for themselves in its rigidly gendered structures. The policy also offers more options to players previously asked to make compromises or even zero-sum choices between their identity and their home in ultimate, including players who identify outside a binary gender, players questioning their gender identity, and players early in a transition process caught between delaying affirming treatments and giving up a vital source of mental and emotional support.
For players like these, what makes a division fit them best might be determined by factors other than how they describe their own gender identity or where they look the most like their competitors.
“Athletes should not be kept from living as themselves due to a desire to play sports, nor should an athlete be kept from playing sports in a safe environment due to their gender identity or expression,” the proposal emphasizes, giving the example of “a trans player assigned female at birth who is taking low levels of hormones to match their gender identity” who “may feel uncomfortable or unsafe being forced to compete in the men’s or mixed division for a number of reasons unrelated to physical size (e.g. existing team relationships, commitment to the culture for women’s sports and/or concerns about safety and inclusion among cisgender males).”
Under the previous policy, this player would be ineligible to continue playing with a women’s team at the competitive level. For ultimate players — whose investment in the sport’s rituals, calendars, familial structures, and sense of connection with a broader community can run deep — an impasse like that can feel like being forced to choose between fundamental parts of their being.
“For me, this policy means that no matter what my gender identity is today or how it may be fully realized in the future, I will still be able to play this amazing sport,” said Gibboney in a USAU press release. “I hope that when people see this policy, they don’t have to worry about if they belong or if they have to sacrifice parts of themselves to keep playing.”
Defined as the college regular season, college series, club regular season, club series, beach series, and masters series. ↩
UKU’s policy is superseded by WFDF’s at events that serve as qualifiers for international play. EUF requires one year living as the gender the player competes as but does not include medical requirements or testing of any kind. ↩
WADA regulates both testosterone and spironolactone, a commonly-prescribed anti-androgen controlled by anti-doping agencies as a masking agent. Most people receiving hormone therapy use one of these substances. ↩