Rachel McKinnon says she looks forward to a day when, ‘people like me can just focus on competing’ because ‘that’s hard enough.’ (Contributed/Craig Huffman)

Transgender cyclist from B.C. wins world title, backlash ensues

Victoria native Rachel McKinnon: “All the work that went into that victory, people are attributing to me being trans.’

When Rachel McKinnon hopped on her bike to compete in the UCI Masters Track Cycling World Championship earlier this month in California, she knew she had followed the competition rules to a tee – ironic for a kid who grew up golfing in Greater Victoria and who is now at the centre of a firestorm of backlash for being a transgender athlete.

“I’m not naive, I work on this topic professionally,” says the College of Charleston professor, on the line from South Carolina. “I’m currently teaching a course on transgender people in sport and yet, I’m pretty shocked at how heavy the backlash is.”

On Oct. 13, the Stelly’s Secondary School alum and UVic graduate made history as the first transgender woman to win a world title. But, it’s the idea that McKinnon had an unfair advantage – due to being assigned male at birth – that caused an international uproar.

“All the work that went into that victory, people are attributing to me being trans,” she says. “I didn’t just get up off the couch and win. I worked my butt off.”

RELATED: B.C. filmmaker receives non-binary birth certificate

Standing on the podium with the bronze medal was Jen Wagner Assali, a hand surgeon from Houston, who tweeted immediately following the race that the result was unfair.

She later apologized, saying she made the comments out of frustration and that they weren’t productive or positive, adding: “While I may not agree with the rules, when I pin on a number I agree to race by them.”

The rules, McKinnon says, are clear, and she has always competed in accordance with them, regularly testing her testosterone levels – which require staying below 10 nanomoles for every litre of blood.

RELATED: Pride Week kicks off in Victoria with raising of five pride flags

The idea that she could have had a physical advantage over her competitors solely based on gender frustrates McKinnon who says in the qualifying rounds, Wagner Assali “beat me 10 out of 12 times.”

And of her competitor’s response on social media, McKinnon says: “She made it clear that she stood by what she said, but just regretted doing it publicly.”

Transgender athletes first competed in Olympic level sport in 2004 – to date, none of them have reached the podium – and it is the International Olympic Committee’s guidelines for male-to-female trans athletes that most elite level sport organizations also use.

In 2017, a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine surveyed 2,127 cisgender track and field athletes (those whose gender identity aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth) testing their levels of testosterone in comparison with their performance.

While the data has yet to be released, the study found men with higher levels of testosterone didn’t necessarily fare any better in any particular event and women with high levels of testosterone sometimes had an advantage over those with lower levels.

Sochi Olympics offer platform for gay community

The controversy is predictable, McKinnon says, because the rights of transgender people have made significant gains in recent years.

“Every time this has happened in history with marginalized groups and the advancement of civil rights, there’s been a backlash,” she points out. “And, I think we’re in that moment.”

Truth be told, McKinnon doesn’t think people really even care about women’s track cycling, a relatively new sport that first appeared at the 1988 Olympics, and that the criticisms are just a way of “exposing whatever transphobia they already had.”

Participation in sport is a human right, she says, pointing to the fourth principle of the Olympic Charter.

“I do look forward to the day, if it ever comes, that I or people like me can just focus on competing,” McKinnon says. “That’s hard enough.”


@kristyn_anthony
kristyn.anthony@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

WATCH: Coldstream producer treats neighbours to live music from safe distance

Neighbours practiced social distancing as Jeff Johnson played songs from his front steps

Salmon Arm mayor supports parking solution for hungry truckers

Alternative to Highway 1 suggested for drivers wanting access to McDonald’s

Column: Keeping distance, working together and readying for rebound

Council Report by Salmon Arm Mayor Alan Harrison

Interior Health officials outline pandemic response in virtual town hall

Kelowna-Lake County MLA Norm Letnick moderates digital discussion, Q&A with Interior Health leadership

Shuswap food bank gives away three months of food in one week

High demand in face of COVID-19, Eagle Valley Community Support Society appeals for donations

B.C. is seeing the highest rate of COVID-19 recovery in Canada, and there’s a few reasons why

British Columbia was one of the first to see rise in COVID-19 cases, and has also switched up testing

RCMP, firefighters rally in support for health care workers in Kelowna

Pandosy Street was packed with supporters Saturday night

Sewers stitch masks to free up supplies for front-line health-care workers

“We have little old ladies sewing up a storm,” said Joan Davis

Experts weigh in on best handling of groceries during COVID-19 pandemic

Study suggests the virus can live for up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic

COVID-19 world update: Enforceable quarantine in NYC?; France orders 1 billion masks

Spain warns EU’s future at stake; New York governor calls Trump’s idea ‘federal declaration of war

Earth Hour 2020 kicks off online Saturday night

Action moves online due to COVID-19

Okanagan woman baking for those in need amid COVID-19

Vernon’s Crystal Hedlund launched a GoFundMe page to generate funds for baking materials

Okanagan distillery hands out thousands of sanitizer bottles, needs help in COVID-19 fight

Okanagan Springs is donating hand sanitizer to help fill COVID-induced shortages

B.C. COVID-19 cases rise 92 to 884, one more death, 81 in care

Outbreak action underway in 12 long-term care homes

Most Read