Athlete Ally: Navratilova’s Statements Transphobic and Counter to our Work, Vision and Values

Athlete Ally unequivocally stands on the side of trans athletes and their right to access and compete in sport free from discrimination. Martina Navratilova’s recent comments on trans athletes are transphobic, based on a false understanding of science and data, and perpetuate dangerous myths that lead to the ongoing targeting of trans people through discriminatory laws, hateful stereotypes and disproportionate violence. As an organization dedicated to addressing root causes of homophobia and transphobia in and through sport, we will only affiliate with those committed to the same goal, and not those who further misinformation or discrimination in any way. Given this, Navratilova has been removed from our Advisory Board and as an Athlete Ally Ambassador, effective immediately.

Within her op-ed in the Sunday Times, Navratilova referred to trans women as men who “decide to be female,” and that to allow them to compete with women is “cheating and unfair.” First of all, trans women are women, period. They did not decide their gender identity any more than someone decides to be gay, or to have blue eyes. There is no evidence at all that the average trans woman is any bigger, stronger, or faster than the average cisgender woman, but there is evidence that often when athletes lower testosterone through hormone replacement therapy, performance goes down.

Trans women athletes aren’t looking to take over women’s sport. They are women, and want to compete in the sport they love, just as any other athlete would. In fact, they’re largely underrepresented. Trans athletes have been allowed to openly compete in the Olympics since 2003, and yet no transgender athlete has ever gone to the Olympics. Professional trans women athletes are extremely rare.

Public figures like Martina Navratilova have an incredible platform provided to them, and when they speak, the world listens. When we launched our Ambassador program in 2011 and invited Martina to join us, we saw her as a trailblazer for LGBTQ people in sports—someone who, like us, believed in the power of sport to advance equality, dismantle stereotypes, and build a more inclusive society.

Martina’s latest statements stand in stark contrast to that vision, and to our core beliefs and values as an organization. We live in a world where 1 in 4 trans people are assaulted simply for being trans, and bills across the United States are seeking to dehumanize trans people and prevent them from accessing the rights they deserve. The trans community is under attack, and we firmly stand opposed to any and all people who perpetuate attacks against them—regardless of who they are or their accolades. To spread misinformation is to create a ripple effect of bias and discrimination that restricts trans people from living their lives fully, and endangers their health, safety and livelihood.

This is not the first time we have approached Martina on this topic. In late December, she made deeply troubling comments across her social media channels about the ability for trans athletes to compete in sport. We reached out directly offering to be a resource as she sought further education, and we never heard back.

We believe that growth is possible, and we extend once again to Martina the invitation to learn from this experience, to study the data on trans athletes in sport, and to examine how statements like hers further stigma and discrimination.

The LGBTQ community is not a monolith. We must always leave space to learn from one another, and to grow. If we fail to do so, we are not only failing our goal to advance LGBTQ equality as a whole, but failing to live up to the core of our potential as human beings who believe all of us deserve a place in sports and in this world.