Republican governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, signed an anti-transgender order into law on March 26, State Senate Bill 354, banning trans girls and women from competing in scholastic sports categories that align with who they are. While the law is focused on school-based sports, this sort of legislation has the potential to impact scholastic cycling, as well as make transgender people feel less welcome in the state. Similar bills were also passed in Tennessee and Mississippi this year.
A surge of energy and cash has been pumped into MTB tourism across Arkansas over the past few years, and many in the local cycling community are not happy about the new law. Proponents say the new law is intended to preserve fairness in women’s sporting events.
BikeNWA Development Director and Arkansas Enduro Series promoter, Candice Kozark, didn’t pull any punches with her thoughts on the new law.
“The Arkansas Enduro Series recognizes and condemns the harm that Arkansas SB-354 and SB-289 do to our trans & LGBTQ+ friends, family, and fellow athletes. Our goal is to create a truly inclusive community. That means that we enthusiastically welcome all trans and LGBTQ+ athletes to participate in our events. We also respect the decision of anyone who declines to participate in our events to protect their physical and emotional wellbeing. We urge all who are able to email or call Governor Hutchinson to express their opposition to these dangerous and harmful bills.”
When these laws take effect they will negatively impact all transgender girls and women from grade school through university in all team sports. We reached out to the president of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) president, Steve Matous to understand how the organization, affiliate chapters, and student athletes might be impacted.
Is it the promoter, governing body, school, parents, or the athlete themselves who could be penalized? Unfortunately, Matous doesn’t have a clear answer at this point, though he did say that they plan to support trans athletes.
“NICA has had a transgender policy in place since 2015 that outlines our commitment to providing all students with the opportunity to participate in a manner consistent with their gender identity. For our own continuing education on these issues, in 2020, our staff participated in a mandatory training program, Safe Zone. Developed by the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill LGBTQ Center, Safe Zone is a training program designed to introduce concepts, terminology, and resources related to sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. We affirm our support for all student-athletes.”
Matous says that NICA is aware of new legislation in several states regarding transgender students’ ability to participate in athletics and that they will be monitoring them.
Oregon-based professional cyclocross racer and transgender athlete Molly Cameron says that the new law is a signal by the state that trans athletes don’t belong there. Cameron has been an advocate and role model for many years in her local community and abroad.
“We are not welcome. Now there are laws saying we are illegal and that we are not welcome to the basic human rights the rest of the citizens of the state are. At this point, you couldn’t pay me to go to Arkansas to do anything other than LGBTQ and BIPOC activism and advocacy.”
USA Cycling is also navigating how the new law will impact their athletes. USAC CEO & President Rob DeMartini said that he’s received a flood of emails from members asking that the organization boycott the coming mountain bike and cyclocross events in the state, though at this point that’s not the way the organization is choosing to respond.
“I just don’t see where that goes. Particularly when this law is in front of twenty different states. I think we need to be part of the dialogue, which in my mind means to participate. 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. What we’ll probably do is take out any team competition whatsoever and just let them race as individuals. That way we don’t feel like they’re in violation of the law. I know that for some that’s not enough. They want to see [USAC] not send a team and not support the event. The Wal-Mart Foundation is based in Arkansas. It’s [worth] 250 billion dollars. They’re very close to the governor and they are against this bill and couldn’t stop it. So, I’m not sure that a boycott by USA Cycling is anything more than ceremonial. I don’t mean to discount the point of view for a trans athlete. That ceremony may be worth it to them. I just am not sold on that.”
DeMartini is also not yet sure if the mentioned scholastic connection in the legislation will play out in USAC events.
“We’re trying to get some legal guidance. My understanding is that it’s not in violation if it’s not school affiliated. But there’s no safe space there because these laws are going to creep one way or the other based on public opinion in the state. It’s not definitive in the application of the law. I think what is definitive is that this is a bad law. It’s not inclusive. It’s not good for sport of any kind. We object to this kind of law, and we’re going to try to have the influence we can have while keeping our sport open and accessible.”
There is a precedent for allowing transgender athletes to race the category that aligns with who they are in cycling. Following the lead of USAC and the UCI regulations for trans athletes, Kozark added that “What’s also important to note here is that many of us producing cycling events in Arkansas know that though it has been brought to light recently in our state, this is not a new issue in the sport of cycling. There are precedents here for our sport established by other sanctioning bodies. The Arkansas Enduro Series is enacting a transgender policy that will be in line with others across the sport.”
The UCI and USAC have policies in place that require the testosterone levels of athletes who have transitioned from male to female, to be under a certain threshold for at least a year before competing.
Kozark continued, “The ruling is specifically for schools and has no actual authority over what we do in cycling races outside of school-sanctioned events. Since many events in our region are UCI or USA Cycling sanctioned, they most likely will follow their established transgender athlete policies. The NICA league also has an established transgender athlete policy and their local and national leaders are working to figure out what the ruling means for their organization and events here in Arkansas.”
Molly Cameron also said that she doesn’t see a boycott as the best course of action. In terms of what USAC and the local cycling associations can do, she has a clear message: move the race out of Arkansas.
“At this point, they could do more than just making ‘cover your own ass’ statements. The entire cycling industry in Arkansas: the races, tourism community, event promoters, and brands; they are barely doing the minimum in terms of supporting the LGBTQ community in Arkansas. I’m not calling for a boycott. True ally-ship would be if all cycling events in Arkansas would explore moving their events out of state. This follows a precedent set by the NCAA to move events out of states and counties that discriminate against the LGBTQ community.”
Cameron shared some parting words on how this legislation continues the demonization of transgender folks.
“There’s a lot to say about these state and house bills, and Arkansas is not the only state passing discriminatory and racist legislation. The LGBTQ community is not the only community under attack but for Republicans and the right-wing, the transgender community is easy to attack and rally the popular opinion against. In the early 1900s, a conservative narrative was ‘black men are raping our white women’ and now a narrative is ‘trans women are ruining girls sports.’ The reality is that there was and is no black menace and there is no trans menace. There is just fear and ignorance driving these bills across the US.”
For anyone who is wondering what they can do to support transgender athletes, Cameron suggests starting with your voice.
“Speak up. Speak up louder. Be more vocal in your support for the transgender community. A couple of seasons ago a bunch of athletes in New England made patches they pinned to the backs of their kits that said: ‘I stand with trans athletes’ and they wore these in races. That show of support is huge.”