Young people benefit socially, emotionally and physically by participating in sports. They can get fit, meet others, learn about interpersonal differences, and build important skills such as communication and teamwork. Safe involvement in sport and physical activity is a protective factor for young people’s physical and mental health.
Many LGBTQA+ people are disengaged from sport and recreation though, and research shows that gender diverse young people have low participation rates due to unique barriers in accessing affirming sporting environments.
Sports teams, clubs and organisations should consider how to support trans people to have equal access to participation. Politics around inclusivity in sport is changing, and organisations should keep up to date with laws and guidelines, and take a participatory approach that enables the inclusion of all young people. But occasionally, smaller sports teams and grassroots or community organisations are not aware of the latest standards.
Community guidelines for the inclusion of gender diverse people in sport (in addition to the majority of current transgender inclusion sports policies) allow people to play in a category or competition that aligns with their gender identity, or where they feel most comfortable.
There is support available to help parents and sports associations navigate this ever-evolving landscape. Organisations like Proud2Play help parents and sports clubs to help create safe and affirming environments for gender diverse people.
What the law says
- You are not required to inform your child’s coach or club about their gender identity. If you do, this remains a protected characteristic under the law and cannot be shared further without your consent.
- In Australia, any child aged 12 years or under can play in any gendered sport category or competition of their choice.
- Excluding or limiting the participation of any child from any gendered team on the grounds of their gender identity is considered discrimination under the Australian Sex Discrimination Act (1984).
- However, a sports team may choose to rely on the ‘Competitive Sporting Activity’ exemption under the Act to exclude a child from a gendered sports team on the grounds of their gender identity.
- To rely on this exemption:
- the child must be 13 years or older; and
- the child’s strength, stamina, or physique would give them a significant advantage over other players; and
- these characteristics must be relevant in the sport (if the sport is skill-based and not strength-based, the exemption is not relevant); and
- the team must be playing competitively (if the sole purpose of the team is social participation, it may be argued that the exemption is not relevant).
If it appears your sports team is looking like they might exclude your child, please review Guidelines for the inclusion of transgender and gender diverse people in sport, in particular, page 36, which offers more detail on this exemption.
Establishing an affirming environment in which your child can participate
Sports associations should take a participatory approach in including all students.
It is normal for some students to be stronger, or faster or better than other students, no matter their sex or gender. There is no reason to exclude a child from a gendered team based on their ‘strength, stamina or physique’.
Ask the manager of the sports organisation whether teams need to be divided by gender. For example, there may be opportunities to include more mixed teams and events in their program.
If teams are divided by gender, your child should be able to participate in the gender they identify as or feel most comfortable in and wear the corresponding uniform.
Many young people feel uncomfortable in change rooms and are vigilant about who sees their bodies; and young trans people are likely to be more anxious. Discuss what can be put in place to ensure your child can get changed safely.
When talking with your child’s coach or management, ensure the focus of the conversation is on how your child is feeling, not how other players or their parents may feel about your child.
Other things to know about the inclusion of gender diverse young people in Australian sport
- Each sport and club is different. Assess the climate and culture of the club before having a conversation with staff and management. For example, you might deem it only necessary to inform your child’s coach or choose not to disclose at all. If you do wish to advise your club, you can use our letter template ‘Informing sports organisation about your child’s gender identity’.
- Check to see if your sport has a community policy for the inclusion of gender diverse people. If there is no policy, as may be the case in smaller clubs with limited resources, your child still maintains a right to participate.
- Understand that the club and the volunteers might lack expertise and understanding in this area. Many want to do the right thing but do not know what to do and sometimes information from their governing body is not accurate or correct.
- At a community sport level, it is rare that the clause of ‘strength, stamina and physique’ can be implemented to exclude your child.
- The criteria and boundary between community and elite levels of sport should be identified by the organisation. For example, in athletics, it is the responsibility of athletics associations to identify events or teams that qualify as being ‘elite’.
- Depending on the sport, leagues and associations are not necessarily required to implement the policies of their governing body and may choose to implement their own. The roadblock may be from the league and not the club, or the policy they have in place may be old, out of date, and harmful. If you think this might be the case at your child’s club, please contact Proud2Play for guidance.
- Each club has a duty of care to provide their members with safe and inclusive environments. If this is not happening, you are entitled to report this to the league, association, or state body. If you believe your complaint is not being dealt with appropriately, you can contact Proud2Play for support.
If you need help, or if you believe your sports organisation has got something wrong, please contact Proud2Play for guidance.
Alongside working with your sports clubs it’s important to teach your child coping mechanisms, and help them develop resilience. Your support and acceptance will give them inner strength to deal with any adversity they encounter on and off the field.
If your child is being discriminated against
If you experience any challenges, discrimination, or would like support around your child’s engagement or inclusion sport, we recommend you first familiarise yourself with the resources listed under our Helpful links at the bottom of this info sheet, and visit the Proud2Play website.
You should then book a time to meet with your child’s coach, school physical education teachers, or managers of their sports organisations. Describe the discrimination in as much detail as you can, and request solutions that allow your child to safely continue participating in the sport. If any ‘solution’ is presented that you believe is discriminatory, you do not have to agree to it.
If the discrimination continues, keep dated records of each incident, and your attempts to resolve them, in case you need to escalate the complaint or decide to pursue legal action.
Remember, when a child is under 13, they are legally protected by the Australian Sex Discrimination Act (1984) to participate in sports and recreation activities however they like — that includes playing in whichever gendered team they feel most comfortable. There is no obligation to exclude a child from any gendered team or competition on the basis of ‘strength, stamina or physique’.
‘My child’s right to not be discriminate against on the grounds of their gender identity is protected by Section 5B of the Australian Sex Discrimination Act (1984), while their rights to services and facilities are protected by Section 22 of the same.’
If you experience any difficulty or need support in making a complaint, you can engage Proud2Play to advocate on your behalf. To discuss this service, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.