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Inclusivity in Hockey - A Transgender Case Study from Heriot Watt University 07/12/2017

The topic of LGBT community members in sport is well documented by many sporting National Governing Bodies. Many sports and clubs are making efforts to ensure they are safe and accessible to LGBT individuals but examples of best practice, specifically regarding transgender individuals moving between teams, are few and far between.

Heriot-Watt Hockey Club, however, have had direct experience of this over the last two seasons. Since an initial conversation early in the 2016/17 academic year to the present moment, the club and its members have participated in the successful transition of an individual from the women’s side of the club into the men's, in both a social and playing capacity. The club are sharing their story now to raise awareness and to provide that case study to the higher education sector. 

Background to the Situation

The conversation began when the individual, referred to here as E, was flagged to the Sports Union and previous hockey club president by a member of the ladies team who played hockey with E at school in their female 1st XI. It was suggested that he was undergoing some major life changes, including name and gender.

E presented himself to the HWUHC committee as a male in the early stages of his transition. However, thanks to some open and positive discussions it was decided that he would play women's hockey during his first year in the club, due to the fact that he was so early in his transition and had not yet started receiving hormone treatment. This decision was made by E with input from Heriot-Watt's 2016/17 Student Union LGBT Officer and 2016/17 Sports Union Equality and Diversity Exec. The decision was also partially made on the basis of safety, with the women's side of the club deemed to be a safer environment during the early part of his transition before his testosterone treatment had started. The club also ensured that this aligned to and complied with BUCS and Scottish Hockey policy, with the only stipulation at the time being that the individual had not started this treatment.

There was a further discussion with the hockey club and Sports Union executive as to whether the club should be informing opposing teams of the situation, in case a situation arose where they questioned E's eligibility to play. Upon advice from the University Equality and Diversity Partner, it was decided that unless specifically asked, and if E gave permission, the scenario would not be disclosed. It was also agreed originally that the individuals involved in the discussions, including both the hockey club committee and SU Exec, would treat this as a confidential matter between themselves.

Opening up to Club
 
The open and confidential conversations allowed E to settle into the club quickly and E chose, of his own accord, to gradually disclose his situation to teammates through the year. As he was playing for the Ladies' 1st XI, he chose to open up to the team early on to explain his absence and reluctance to the changing room (an issue quickly solved by the use of toilet cubicles). This was received very well by his teammates, with all members accepting it openly with no criticism. This acceptance by E's peers ensured that the information was quickly divulged across both the Men's and Women's sides of the club, all of whom were equally accepting.

The process throughout was definitely helped by E’s own openness about his situation. He was very open to receiving questions about his transition, and understood that people may have issues or make frequent mistakes with pronouns, and was very patient with his teammates. It was noted across the club that if someone made a mistake, it was normally one of the other teammates rather than E himself who picked them up on it, and errors were always quickly apologised for.

Transitioning to the Men's Club
 
At the end of the 2016/17 season, E began to receive hormone treatment, drastically altering both his appearance and the way he sounded. This gave him the confidence to speak up during end of season discussions and highlight that he was definitely going to play for the one of the men's teams the following season. This was unsurprising news to the club, and was also necessary by this point to conform to Scottish Hockey's policy. Throughout the summer of 2017, Jen Withers (current Heriot-Watt Sports Union President) worked closely with E, who was also volunteering as the SU intern. Jen and E highlighted to BUCS that many NGB policies around transgender players were out of date - such as the Scottish Hockey policy, which E stressed many in the Trans community would have considered offensive. By working proactively with BUCS and Scottish Hockey to align the new policies, it gave E more confidence in making his decision to trial for the Men's teams.

E was selected for the HWUHC Men's 2nd XI at the start of the 2017/18 season, and has consistently represented them throughout this semester. E realised that whilst playing for the Men's team was now a necessity due to his hormone treatment, he would have to work harder at training to match the increased pace and physicality in comparison to ladies hockey - something which his determination and ability allowed him to do more than adequately. E has not undergone surgery yet and so still wears some items of clothing that a regular, cis-gender, male may not wear – but his teammate's awareness of the ongoing transition means that this is not perceived to be an issue, with E using toilet cubicles where necessary.

One interesting situation arose when an equality partner at the University suggested a HWUHC social where everyone wore their preferred pronouns – a suggestion that the club quickly rejected. The committee felt this would have drawn unnecessary attention to a sensitive situation and, ultimately, that treating E as they treat all their players – and not as though he is made of egg shells – was the best thing to ensure that he felt comfortable and part of the club. It ensured he was fully integrated into the team, and did not highlight him as a ‘special case’.

Conclusion
 
Matt Burton, HWUHC Club Coordinator 2017/18, commented that “As heads of the hockey committee, we are honoured to help E throughout the transition, and are happy to help him in any way that he sees fit. It’s a privilege that E feels comfortable enough at our club to express himself in mind and on the pitch.” 

In the words of E himself, regarding his integration into the club, “The hockey club and Sports Union were very welcoming and respectful whilst making it clear that if I had any issues they’d be dealt with discretely and professionally. This was proved when I was assaulted one evening and the whole hockey club had my back - they really go out of their way to make sure my safety isn’t compromised, which makes the world of a difference for Trans individuals." Furthermore, when asked about his openness, he said "I am more than happy to discuss my transition and other issues the LGBTQ+ community face, which I think is a good thing. I try to ensure that anyone within the SU feels comfortable to ask me questions, I encourage them to ask me. Through the Sports Union I’ve had the opportunity to educate and actively make change within my Sports Union, the hockey club and in the lives of others, which is an amazing feeling that I hope to continue with during the rest of my time at Heriot-Watt and after.” 

The overwhelming feeling from Heriot Watt University Hockey Club, on both the Women's and Men's sides of the club, is that E is a protected and valued individual who is accepted and respected for who he is. The club's actions to ensure an open and inclusive environment, as well as E's openness and patience with his teammates around pronouns and Trans issues, have definitely helped to remove barriers and concerns about his transition. The club have created a true hockey family, an environment where everyone is accepted for who they are - including E and several openly LGBT members. It is definitely a club that should be celebrated, and looked to as an example of best practice regarding LGBT inclusivity.
 
Further Information & Contacts

This report was provided by Jen Wither, Sports Union President at Heriot-Watt, who is happy to be contacted by those seeking further information. 

For further information about the BUCS Hockey Programme, please contact Greg Sturge, the BUCS Hockey Development Manager.

BUCS is proud that Inclusivity in Sport is a key theme of our Strategy. If you would like further guidance about this topic or a range of other inclusivity issues, including disability sport and mental health in sport, head over to our Inclusion Portal for a range of resources. 
 
England Hockey's updated Transgender Policy (2017) can be seen here
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