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Boston and transgender runners: inclusivity rules

Trans runners welcome further clarification by the B.A.A. of policies surrounding identity

Photo of Grace Fisher: Twitter

Recently, we ran a story on transgender women qualifying for and running this year’s Boston Marathon. 

RELATED: Three transgender women preparing to race Boston Marathon

In response to that, we heard from Canadian trans activist Jennifer McCreath about her experiences running Boston in 2009 and 2010. In 2009, McCreath asked the B.A.A. to allow her entry when she was partway through her transition and had missed the qualifying time for men by one minute. They said yes.

Photo of Jennifer McCreath: Twitter

Until recently, Boston’s policy on trans runners was not always clear, and requests like McCreath’s were handled on a case-by-case basis. There are likely many other trans women who have simply chosen to fly under the radar at Boston. 

This week, according to a report in Runner’s World, the B.A.A. has now stated only that runners must compete as the same sex they qualified under, as reflected by their government-issued I.D., which is checked at race packet pickup. If there is an issue, the B.A.A. has said they will “address it in a manner intended to be fair to all concerned, with a strong emphasis on inclusion.” 

If a dispute arises over prize money or age-group awards, the B.A.A. will defer to the IAAF, which in turn follows the lead of the I.O.C. The I.O.C. may require testing to prove that the athlete’s testosterone levels do not exceed the maximum deemed acceptable for females. 

Both the clarity and the inclusivity are part of an evolution in the sometimes troubled history of defining what is “male” and “female” at international sporting competitions. Just ask Caster Semenya, the South African 800m champion whose sex has been questioned and tested repeatedly since she first emerged on the scene 10 years ago. Semenya was raised female, identifies as female, and has always competed as female, despite relentless efforts by the IAAF to prove otherwise, arguing that her hyperandrogenism (a high level of testosterone in women) gave her an unfair competitive advantage.

Trans athletes in particular are faced with possibly having to defend their identity in the midst of complex life events that may or may not include hormone treatments or surgery.

Perhaps no one knows all sides of this issue better than Grace Fisher, who has run Boston as a man (in 2014) and as a woman (every year since 2015). Fisher only ran into difficulties with the B.A.A. in 2016 when living as female but carrying identification that was ambiguous (her sex had been changed, but her name had not). The B.A.A. listed her results as male, but later agreed to switch them. Fisher qualified and ran without any issues last year, and is feeling confident about Monday’s race.