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New gender categories for Toronto races

Here's how some of the big race and timing organizations are addressing issues of gender identification

If you ran this year’s Sporting Life 10K in Toronto, and you stuck around for the awards ceremony in the rain after many people had gone home, you would have noticed something unusual: in addition to the man and woman categories, race director Cory Freedman presented awards in two new awards categories: non-binary and prefer-not-to-disclose.

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Sporting Life 10K 2019. Photo: FinisherPix

“Race Roster, Sportstats and Canada Running Series [organizers of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, lululemon Waterfront 10K and other races] and I all decided that we, being the leaders in Toronto… could do a better job of being more inclusive to different genders,” Freedman told us. So they asked The 519 [an advocacy organization for Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community] for advice, acknowledging that, at the bigger races at least, it’s no longer about male and female. After some discussion and based on suggestions from the 519, the various stakeholders decided on four gender categories: man, woman, non-binary and prefer not to disclose. The intention is to monitor the response to the new categories over the coming season, with a willingness to adjust in the future if it seems warranted.

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Sporting Life 10K 2019 start. Photo: FinisherPix

Freedman says there wasn’t a lot of pressure to replace male/female with man/woman (which is based on gender rather than biological sex) or add other gender categories, but there had definitely been a sense, since at least last year, that the categories were a bit narrow.

Freedman comments that all this took place just after registration opened for Sporting Life, and when they amended the online registration form to reflect the new categories, the response was immediate. Of 22,000 registrants for the Sporting Life 10K, approximately 1.3 per cent selected one of the two new gender categories, which, according to Freedman, is indicative of the gender split in the general population.

Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon 2019. Photo: Canadian Running

Freedman, who is also race director of the Toronto Women’s Run Series, notes she did not see a similar response among people entering the women’s races. “Maybe in that setting they just wanted to be under women, I don’t know,” she says. “All I do know is that it was a good example of us as race directors, timing companies, registration companies and those of us who are living in a very diverse city recognizing that we need to be more inclusive, and being able to be pro-active enough to do it, and have that interest and uptake.”

Cory Freedman. Photo: FinisherPix

Further, the category on the registration form is now referred to as gender rather than sex–an important distinction in 2019.

Freedman also noted that adding gender categories meant adding awards categories, and she wondered whether those people would come up and accept their awards. At Sporting Life, “Everybody came and collected. I thought it was great to see that so many people identified with the options… and felt comfortable enough to self-identify. I don’t think it’s going to be an issue in Regina or Saskatoon, but in Toronto there’s a need, and we filled it.

“It was quick and timely. People started to feel that this was acknowledging them, which is what we wanted.”