Over the weekend, the Mad Rollin’ Dolls (MRD) of Madison, Wisconsin (one of the founding WFTDA member leagues) passed a new non-discrimination policy. This policy change was the result of efforts by an internal working group, of which both of the authors of this article were a part, and an open, league-wide discussion that included guidance from the director of the UW Madison’s LGBT Campus Center.
Prior to its passage, MRD had defaulted to WFTDA’s policy. We have trans* skaters on home teams now, as well as people who identify as genderqueer, but wanted to pass our own, more forward-looking and fully inclusive policy to make sure those people were welcomed and supported, and to open the doors to wider participation by those individuals who may have been previously excluded. We’re also hoping this helps to push discussion within WFTDA itself toward passing a similar policy.
It was a big step, and one that now requires a lot of follow-up work to ensure we, as a league, are able to put our money where our mouths are. But we’re incredibly proud of and excited about the progress inherent in this first leap forward.
The policy reads as follows:
MRD, pursuant to its mission of promoting women’s roller derby, does not and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in any of its activities or operations. MRD does not and will not differentiate between members who identify as female and those who identify as a non-binary gender (including but not limited to genderqueer, transmasculine, transfeminine, and agender) and does not and will not set minimum standards of femininity for its membership or interfere with the privacy of its members for the purposes of league eligibility. These activities include, but are not limited to, draft/home team skater eligibility, membership eligibility, disbursement of resources, and eligibility for office. MRD is committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all skaters, officials, volunteers, and fans.
“MRD is committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all skaters, officials, volunteers, and fans”.
Two principles motivated this change in policy:
First, it does not attempt to define gender, e.g. who is a woman and who is a man. There is no hormone level requirement and no requirement that someone must be living full time in that particular gender. Someone’s gender is based completely on how they identify. We view this as necessary given that gender itself is socially constructed and should be dependent only on how someone identifies, not based on the gender they were assigned at birth.
Second, it allows for membership by those who identify as non-binary and for those individuals to maintain that identity. Non-binary people are individuals who do not identify with either of the binary genders, i.e. as male or female. As it is, non-binary people have to conform to one of the binary genders for the purposes of sports. We view acceptance of non-binary people into the league as a means to be an inclusive space for those who wish to participate in a predominantly women’s sport while also maintaining their gender identification. In other words, non-binary people should be able to play with ladies without having to gloss over the fact that they do not identify as such.
“We view acceptance of non-binary people into the league as a means to be an inclusive space for those who wish to participate in a predominantly women’s sport while also maintaining their gender identification”.
This policy is simple, makes no attempt to define genders, and explicitly makes space for those who identify outside of the gender binary. It actually closely reflects the MRDA non-discrimination policy, with some minor but substantive adjustments.
The current WFTDA policy is progressive in many ways. It’s certainly a huge improvement over the International Olympic Committee’s “Stockholm Consensus” which dictates that athletes must have fully legally transitioned as either male or female, with a hormone therapy requirement of two years, and also have undergone sexual reassignment surgery (SRS). WFTDA instead holds that skaters need to identify as a woman–defined as someone living full time as a woman–and have hormone levels within the “medically acceptable range for a female.”
However, WFTDA’s current policy has some gaps if we look at it through the lens of the principles which we set out above. Because the policy attempts to define gender and set requirements for womanhood, it has a very real potential to discriminate against skaters who either cannot afford or do not wish to undergo invasive surgeries or treatments. It may also discriminate against individuals who may be closeted in everyday life but want to have the freedom of skating as their self-identified gender in their leagues. There is also no language in this policy which gives space for skaters who identify as neither female nor male. And it is important to remember that people with those identities are also frequently very highly impacted by discrimination generally and therefore monetary hardship and very valid fears about visibility can be an everyday concern.
One of the authors of this article (Kate Silver) identifies as a non-binary transgender person. They skate with MRD’s recreational counterpart, the Mad Wreckin’ Dolls. Before the passage of the policy, Kate says, they “weren’t quite sure where I stood as a skater within the structure of the leagues,” though stresses that they’ve felt “personally supported by most of their fellow skaters.” With passage of the new policy, however, Kate feels like they can be fully embraced by the whole of the Madison derby community.
Kate’s story is just one among many, of course, but no less important.
We recognize the hard work yet to be done on this issue, and that our policy may put the league at odds with others that have different requirements for skaters (not to mention WFTDA itself, and how we deal with skaters who want to try out for our competitive interleague team, the Dairyland Dolls). In the interest of not “making the perfect the enemy of the good,” however, we felt it was important to pass the policy sooner rather than later, and deal with any issues as they arise, on a case-by-case basis. We hope that, eventually, the majority of WFTDA members and roller derby volunteers and fans worldwide will support the effort to make our sport more a more fully inclusive and supportive place for all who wish to play.
This piece was jointly authored by Kate Silver (Quad Squad bench staff, working group member, Mad Wreckin’ Doll) and Hammer Abby (Quad Squad captain, MRD PR manager, working group member).