Transgender women are society’s “current punching bag” and are the targets of a “culture war”, says cyclist Emily Bridges.
In an interview with DIVA magazine, Bridges called on LGBT “allies” to “raise their voices” in support.
In April, the 21-year-old was barred from competing in her first elite women’s race by cycling’s world governing body, the UCI.
The UCI is currently assessing her eligibility to race in the women’s events.
Bridges says it “has no edge” over its competition and can prove it with data.
“We are the current punching bag of populist movements. We are, right now, the ones the culture war is against,” Bridges said.
“There needs to be more positive voices and more education. People build opinions from the whole story.
“The more studies there are, the more concrete evidence there will be.
“Sport acts as a microcosm for the rest of society, so with the patriarchal structure that exists in the rest of society, it intensifies in sport.”
At the height of the debate surrounding Bridges’ participation, a letter signed by a group of elite female cyclists – including retired Olympians, scientists and researchers – called on the UCI to ‘cancel’ its transgender policy and said there was ‘deep regret’ facing the “crisis situation”.
The group said some female cyclists in the UK “are willing to boycott” the races so that the UCI and British Cycling “hear their concerns about fairness in their sport”.
Lord Coe has issued a warning about the ‘very fragile’ future of women’s sport, while a major review declared transgender inclusion, fairness and safety “often cannot coexist”.
Bridges came out as transgender in 2020 and started hormone therapy last year as part of her treatment for gender dysphoria.
While undergoing hormone therapy, Bridges continued to compete in men’s races, finishing 43rd out of 45 riders in the elite men’s criterium at the Loughborough Cycling Festival in May 2021 and, in September of the same year, placing second to last in the Welsh National Championship road race. , 12 km from the winner.
In 2022, in his last men’s race, Bridges won a men’s points race at the British University Championships.
“I could have not rolled [in men’s events]which probably would have been a bit better for my sanity and for asserting my identity,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s the right decision or not, but that’s what I said. do.”
She became eligible to compete in the women’s events due to declining testosterone levels. British Cycling’s transgender regulations – which have now been suspended pending review – runners had to have had testosterone levels below five nanomoles per liter for a period of 12 months prior to competition.
But days before the National Omnium Championships, the UCI told British Cycling that, as international ranking points are awarded at national championships, Bridges’ participation could only be allowed once he was eligible to compete in confirmed international competitions.
Bridges said it was “awful” to be ruled out so close to the event.
“It all started by saying, ‘Oh, she’s going to run and she’s going to beat Laura Kenny.’ I don’t know why they think that. I wasn’t doing so well,” she said.
“It’s like they automatically think I’m going to beat a multiple Olympic champion, just because I’m trans.
“We knew it would create more uproar in the media and it would blow up even more.”
Bridges previously said she had been “harassed and demonized” after learning she couldn’t compete, and deleted her social media for two weeks.
British Olympic gold medalist in cycling Katie Archibald – one of the most high-profile current athletes to speak out publicly on the issue but who did not sign the letter to the UCI – said female and transgender athletes had been “disappointed” by the policies of inclusion, adding that transgender athletes should be welcome in sport but without “sacrificing fairness”.
UK Sport chief executive Sally Munday expressed her “great empathy” for Bridges and said the organization would fund Bridges – if she was selected and approved by the UCI to compete for Britain in the future .
“It’s been a struggle. I’ve tried to take each day, get through the day, and get through to the other side, because there were some pretty dark times,” Bridges told DIVA.
“There’s so much hate and criticism that I just don’t watch. I know it’s happening and I’m trying to get it for myself, but it’s easier said than done.”
She added, “I want to make the world a better place. I want to inspire people and help them along their journey to be who they are, and try to act like a role model a bit.”
“I have no advantage”
Many argue that transgender women should not compete in elite women’s sport because of the advantages they can retain – but others argue that the sport should be more inclusive.
The debate revolves around the balance between inclusion, sporting equity and safety in women’s sport – essentially, whether trans women can compete in women’s categories without their biological sex giving them an unfair advantage or presenting a threat of injury to competitors.
The International Olympic Committee’s framework on transgender athletes – released in November – states that it should not be assumed that a transgender athlete automatically has an unfair advantage in women’s sporting events and places the onus on individual federations to determine the criteria eligibility in their sport.
Asked about her response to people who don’t want transgender female athletes to participate in elite women’s sport, Bridges said: “I understand how you came to that conclusion because a lot of people still view trans women as men. with male anatomy and physiology.
“But hormone replacement therapy has such a massive effect. The difference in aerobic performance disappeared after about four months.
“There are studies going on on trans women in sport. I’m doing one and the drop in performance I’ve seen is huge. I have no advantage over my competition and I have data to support. up.”
This view is disputed by some sports scientists, who argue that the physiological differences established during puberty can create “significant performance advantages (between men and women)”.
Asked about her message for other transgender athletes, Bridges said while it “might take a few years,” it “will get better.”