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United Nations experts call for end of trans & intersex discrimination in sports

United Nations experts call for end of trans & intersex discrimination in sports
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A group of United Nations (UN) experts is calling for an end to discrimination against women, LGBTQ+, and intersex people in sports.

Ahead of next month’s Sporting Chance Forum, which is being held as part of the UN’s yearlong commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 13 experts with the UN’s Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council released a policy position this week on the protection of human rights in sport. They called for an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics in sports, and laid out a set of recommendations for states and international sporting federations to achieve it.

Noting that their call comes at a time when discrimination against all women and girls — as well as LGBTQ+ and intersex people — persists in the field, they reaffirmed that the ability to participate in sports without discrimination of any kind is a human right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“The notion of fairness is inextricable to the practice of sport, and the recognition of differences between human bodies may be relevant to protect and promote fairness in each discipline,” the experts wrote. However, they continued, “Non-discrimination considerations demand that sports organizations remain committed to the fairness of competition by considering all relevant factors that may impact participation of persons on the basis of categories protected under international human rights law, including sex characteristics, sexual orientation and/or gender identity.”

They noted with concern “attempts to use the male-female categorization to argue for the exclusion of trans women and women with intersex variations (or persons perceived as such) from female categories.”

In recent years, many international sports organizations have introduced new rules and restrictions aimed at excluding transgender and intersex women from competing against cisgender women. Across the U.S., bans on trans females participation in girls’ and women’s sports have been introduced at both the state and local levels.

“Categoric exclusions of trans and intersex women from women’s sports is a prima facie violation of human rights obligations under the principle of non-discrimination, and their right to privacy,” the experts wrote. “We are also deeply worried by the accompanying, oftentimes offensive, and even hateful targeting of trans and intersex persons in social media and public discourse, especially as it links to their sense of self and bodily autonomy, as those actions impact their physical and mental integrity.”

They blasted “the sexist scrutiny and suspicion” of all women’s bodies based on “stereotypical notions of a woman athlete’s performance and body type,” and “interventions intended to alter the targeted women’s naturally occurring and healthy hormonal levels simply for the reason of altering their performance in sport.” They also noted that such interventions have historically “disproportionately impacted Black women athletes and women athletes of Asian descent, predominantly from the Global South.”

Among their recommendations, they called on states and international sporting federations to “review intersex- and trans-related rules in relation to the female category and women’s sports to ensure compliance with human rights norms and standards,” and to stop “targeting trans and intersex women under the guise of protecting women’s sports.”

“We are convinced that sports have the power to change perceptions, prejudices, and behaviors: it must not be used to reinforce them,” the UN experts said. “We therefore urge sporting bodies at the elite level to consider the implications of their decisions not only for LGBT and intersex athletes but, equally importantly, the impact that those decisions will have on LGBT and intersex persons participating in sports at all levels, as well as general social perceptions, and on the ideal of inclusive sport.”

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