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‘I was nervous as to how I would be accepted’: Transgender footballer embraced by club

Email Transgender footballer Lucy Finlay on joy and acceptance in local women's league By Gabriella Marchant

Posted June 27, 2019 14:54:30

Lucy Finlay leans on a bench holding a football in her hands Photo: Adelaide footballer Lucy Finlay talked about her experiences. (ABC News: Gabriella Marchant) Related Story: Transgender footballer attacks AFL as she withdraws from AFLW draft Related Story: Behind the rainbow flags, the AFLW has a problem with trans women Related Story: Mouncey's coach dismisses calls about unfair advantage Map: Adelaide 5000

Before living as a woman, Lucy Finlay avoided sport for most of her life.

Key points:

  • Lucy Finlay struggled with gender identity admitting she was "quite depressed"
  • Since becoming a woman, she has been welcomed as an athlete at the Adelaide Lutheran Sports Club
  • Academics say being a part of a sporting group can help transgender people feel supported

Working for the Australian Defence Force, she had fought an internal battle with her gender identity.

As a youngster she had loved mixed-gender sports, but gave up as she matured.

"Throughout the majority of my 20s, you could say I was probably quite depressed," she said.

"Not just as a result of the ongoing gender identity issues, but also not having that physical outlet."

As an adult, she realised she was transgender — identifying as a gender other than what she was assigned at birth —and decided to begin the long and expensive process of legally and physically becoming a woman.

Two years later, she still had not considered the possibility she could be accepted into a women's sport team.

"I was very nervous as to how I would be accepted by the club and most importantly by the opposition," she said.

"I was with a friend who was playing for the women's team and some of the girls at the club said, 'oh can she come and play with us?' … it sort of happened by chance," she said.

To her surprise, her gender was not an issue.

Lucy Finlay jogging on an oval with a football in her hands Photo: Lucy Finlay plays for the Adelaide Lutheran Sports Club women's football team. (ABC News: Gabriella Marchant)

"It took a long time for me to open up and really speak to members within the club about the fact that I was transgender," she said.

"People were very welcoming, people wanted to know, people wanted to understand more."

Ms Finlay now plays both women's netball and Australian Rules football for theAdelaide Lutheran Sports Club — an organisation which upholds Lutheran Church values.

As controversy around religion and LGBT issues continue to make headlines, the club's board chairman Tim Stollznow — himself the son of a Lutheran minister — said the club was moving with the times.

"As far as Lucy's concerned, and others you know that have played for us, it's been no problem," he said.

Tim Stollznow stands on a football oval Photo: Adelaide Lutheran Sports Club chairman Tim Stollznow. (ABC News: Gabriella Marchant)

"We just reflect what the community is, and if these ladies or girls want to come out and play footy for us, well great."

Last year Ms Finlaywas awarded the club's Sportswoman of the Year.

"It's a much different club than it was in the 80s when I first came out and started to get involved. But so is society, and clubs have to move as society moves," Mr Stollznow said.

Playing sport and being supported

For many transgender Australians, their communities are not nearly as supportive.

Last year, transgender footballer Hannah Mouncey withdrew from the AFLW draft, and accused the AFL of treating her poorly.

An opponent tries to tackle Hannah Mouncey as she plays football for the Darebin Falcons in the VFLW. Photo: Transgender footballer Hannah Mouncey (right) playing in the VFLW. (AAP: David Crosling)

A report by the Telethon Kids Institute in 2017, found that young transgender people were at a high risk of suicide and serious depression.

The Trans Pathways survey found almost 80 per cent of participants — aged 14 to 25 years — had self-harmed, compared to almost 11 per cent of adolescents in the general Australian population.

If you need to talk to someone, call:

  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
  • MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
  • Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
  • Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
  • Headspace on 1800 650 890
  • QLife on 1800 184 527

Almost 50 per cent had attempted suicide, compared with 2.4 per cent of adolescents in the general population.

Western Sydney University sports development academic Ryan Storr — a co-founder of Proud 2 Play, an organisation that encourages transgender inclusion in sport — said playing sport improved mental health outcomes.

"It's important to note, being transdoes not cause those mental health implications, it's the discrimination that's experienced from society," Dr Storr said.

"Sport and being healthy, being active and being supported byteammates for example, can often help with the peer rejection that many people might face, and it can often really help.

"There's lots of positive stories, but unfortunately we don't hear about them."

Helping clubs navigate laws

This month the Australian Human Rights Commission released guidelines to help clubs navigate anti-discrimination laws compassionately.

Dr Storr said there were a range of ways sport organisations could be discriminating people unintentionally.

"There might not be inclusive change rooms, there might be inclusive language problems, so people might misgender them, or not use the correct pronouns, there might just be a complete lack of understanding around the needs of trans and gender-diverse athletes," he said.

National Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said the new guidelines had been called for by clubs who wanted to do the right thing, but did not know where to start.

Players standing together for a group photo at the Adelaide Lutheran Sports Club Photo: Lucy Finlay (back centre) pictured with her teammates. (ABC News: Gabriella Marchant)

"Most people that I've spoken to … they really want to be more inclusive, but they also want to follow the laws," she said.

"The purpose [of the guidelines] is to make sure sporting organisations understand how their practices, their facilities, their uniforms and how they operate, is inclusive of transgender people."

They also encourage clubs to include mixed-gender teams so transgender people who do not identify as just one gender can be included.

"I think we're learning over time that gender isn't as simple as being a man or a woman," she said.

"These guidelines recognise that at the core, we want to provide everyone in the community access to the mental benefits of playing sport."

What about the advantage debate?

The guidelines also help provide a framework to help deal with notions around superior strength and endurance among transgender players.

Ms Finlay said it was something that weighed on her mind before any game.

"How am I going to ensure that I play with skill and use the advantages that I have in skill and not just the natural physical advantages … perceived or otherwise that I might have?" she said.

"The last thing I want to do is hurt anybody."

There is an exemption in Australia's national gender discrimination laws which allow clubs to exclude transgender athletes if they demonstrate certain physical advantages.

According to the guidelines, the exemption allows for discrimination on the grounds of sex or gender identity only in 'any competitive sporting activity in which the strength, stamina or physique of competitors is relevant'.

The words 'strength', 'stamina' and 'physique', and the term 'competitive sporting activity', are not defined in the Sex Discrimination Actand their meanings have not been conclusively settled by the Federal Court of Australia.

Lucy Finlay sitting on a football oval and smiling Photo: Lucy Finlay said she was encouraged to play by teammates at the Adelaide Lutheran Sports Club. (ABC News: Gabriella Marchant)

However, Dr Storr said a lot of the public debate did not reflect reality and was irrelevant to community-level competition.

"Most of the debate has been around transgender women playing having an advantage in women's sport," he said.

"Most of that is myths, misinformation about the role of testosterone and things like that."

Perceived advantage could also lead to other forms of discrimination andMs Finlaysaid she had suffered from people's ignorance.

"There have been instances relayed to me where people on the sideline have made comments one way or the other and unfortunately … that's part of life," she said.

"At the end of the day this isDivision Six, and there are players out there that can play far better than I can."

She said her experience was more proof transgender people playing sports did not have to be controversial.

"Transgender people just want to get on with their lives," she said.

"They just want to go to work, they want to be with their family, they want to play sport, they don't want to make a fuss."

Topics: australian-football-league, health, gender-roles, community-and-society, sexuality, victorian-football-league-vfl, adelaide-5000, sa, australia

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