America! Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.

Everybody Races: Diversity in the ECCC

Heading into the 2014 road season, the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference is excited to announce formal diversity and transgender rider policies. These statements render in words the positive, all-inclusive culture of the ECCC, and cement that progressive attitude as a foundation of the conference.

Policy

The diversity statement firmly establishes in writing that all riders are welcome in the ECCC:

It is the goal of the ECCC to conduct and maintain a collegiate cycling community that is free of harassment and discrimination in an effort to promote an environment of respect that will be extended into the broader cycling community as well.

The ECCC recognizes and affirms the equal humanity and identities of all people, without regard to their various characteristics including, but not limited to: Race, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexual orientation, perceived gender identity, religion, or other immutable characteristics. All people are welcome and are to be equally included in all ECCC events. All conference participants, including but not limited to racers, coaches, spectators, officials, and conference personnel, are expected and required to abide by this policy.

Any actions contrary to those beliefs should be reported immediately to conference personnel and will be treated as a serious offense to the community. Potential redress includes but is not limited to points penalties, suspension of riders and teams, and notifying school administrations and/or police.

The ECCC has now also established policy for transgender riders and competition categories:

The ECCC particularly recognizes the challenges facing transgender athletes. Such members of the community should compete in the gender category most appropriate to their unique personal situation. They are invited and encouraged to discuss this with the Conference Director(s) and other ECCC leadership.

Competitors may be asked by the Conference Director(s) and/or their designee(s) to furnish two pieces of documentation from relevant legal, medical, or academic authorities documenting personal sex, gender, or gender dysphoria supporting their selected competition gender category.

This policy is unique and innovative in providing maximal leeway and privacy for transgender athletes, while also having a formal, objective basis upon which to make category determinations. It is specifically designed to account for ECCC demographics and objectives and incorporates modern research.

Motivation

Eastern Conference director Joe Kopena specifically emphasizes that these policies are not reactions to incidents in the ECCC: “The original motivation was actually watching riders and couples racing and at our Kingdom Trails summer camp. It doesn’t occur to anybody in our community that, say, other people might find it awkward traveling with a gay couple. That’s really great, and that positive, live-and-let-live attitude is an ideal I want enshrined in stone as the conference goes on and the leadership changes.”

Meanwhile, Western Conference assistant director and collegiate cycling socialite Virginia Solomon says “Tolerance and equality are still issues in many regions, for collegiate cycling and otherwise, and making statements like these and explicitly advocating for them is still important.”  Eastern Conference assistant director Ian Sullivan adds “It was only in the 2004 road season that the ECCC equalized women’s and men’s points, which eventually became the national standard. There are people still around who raced before that, this isn’t some ancient principle.  There are parts of the country where it’s apparently still very controversial that women racers score the same points as their male peers.”

By placing these formal statements at the forefront of the in-progress updated, comprehensive ECCC policy manual, the conference leadership hopes to ensure that tradition of progressivism and commitment to providing a high quality experience for everyone remains at the heart of the ECCC, and continues to be adopted as the guiding mantra of other conferences and cycling organizations.

The 2013 squad for Yale Cycling, a traditional ECCC women's cycling powerhouse and diversity advocate. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.
The 2013 squad for Yale Cycling, a traditional ECCC women’s cycling powerhouse and diversity advocate. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.

Transgender Riders

In developing that general diversity policy, it quickly became clear that transgender riders warranted particular attention. As society becomes ever more tolerant and inclusive, the conference must ensure it is supporting all its constituents and addressing particular issues to keep pace, and further to help drive that progress. Assistant director Caitlin Thompson observed “In the high school where I teach, as society opens up and these concepts are out there more prominently, we are definitely seeing more kids feeling free and safe to take on non-traditional gender identities, and to rightfully expect that to not have a negative impact on their daily lives. The conference should support them as they enter college and start racing bikes, just as it does everybody else.” That observation was born out after the conference leadership announced it was working in this area and wanted to explicitly welcome transgender riders, as several such members came forward to note that they are already present in the community.

Beyond being an unsettled, evolving topic across sports in general, there are a number of issues unique to collegiate sports regarding transgender athletes. Notably, collegiate cycling and other sports are directly based on a young demographic, one explicitly engaged in exploring the world and self-identity as its members make the transition into adulthood and becoming independent members of society. Many transgender collegiate athletes will have just begun adopting those determinations of their own gender and identity. These athletes will not be at the point yet of proceeding with alterations to their physiology, even if they have the resources with which to do so. Those that are embarking on a physical change will often be in early stages, without the biological record or time passed to comply with the standards of many sporting organizations. Even matters such as updating government identification can be challenging for students juggling and transitioning between living at home and residence at school, often quite removed and in different states.

Regarding the biological standards of many organizations, the ECCC leadership advocate a sense of perspective. Amateur, grassroots, development focused racing such as that in the conference need not, and most likely should not, hold its participants to standards that might make sense in other contexts, such as professional, Olympic, or other elite competition. Former ECCC superstar and USA Cycling Collegiate trustee Emma Bast says “Society being what it is, life is already probably going to be challenging for transgender athletes. While it might make sense at some levels of competition to have rigorous physiological standards, at others the default should be to enable them to just race bikes in whatever way is best for them, and to make sure they have the same good experience as everyone else. Hopefully other organizations look at these ECCC policies as exemplars of that attitude.”

Notably, the conference has received a generally positive attitude to change in this area from USA Cycling. Previous national policy was for riders to compete in the gender category given on their state ID. There are reasonable cases in which a member might not be able to meet that standard, and indeed the ECCC has a rider in such a situation and willing to press the issue. In response, USA Cycling has apparently moved to a more flexible case-by-case basis. Kopena reports “Several people on our team working on this were ready for a huge battle to make progress, but talking with USAC’s legal and other personnel they were very receptive and are making changes. We hope to still help push them to a more objective, transparent policy, but also acknowledge that they have many more issues to address given that they do encompass all levels of racing. It’ll necessarily take time to educate the community, determine consensus, and evolve better policy.”

The ECCC leadership hopes that the community then in turn not hold too strongly to assumed knowledge and knee jerk reactions. Solomon notes “There’s a lot of ‘conventional wisdom’ out there about trans-females having a prolonged advantage from having developed as a male, trans-males getting an unfair boost from testosterone treatments, and so on, that isn’t being born out by current medical research. Physiology is complex, and ideas on gender and identity are often new and difficult for many people to understand at first, so I encourage everyone step back a bit before deciding on some response to the topic, and to come at it with the attitude of letting people live their lives as they wish.”

Ready for Action

With these policies the Eastern conference continues to advance its mission of high quality bicycle racing and personal development for all high school and college students. It has always been doctrine of the ECCC that everybody deserves the best possible racing experience. In the past that meant ensuring equally good events for men and women, then beginners and elites, and these statements continue that thread. Everybody deserves a high quality racing experience, and the ECCC is making that happen.

It takes all kinds. The UVM team struttin', Dartmouth Frat Row Crit 2013.
It takes all kinds. The UVM team struttin’, Dartmouth Frat Row Crit 2013.

Headline photo above by Jan Valerie Polk.