Tanni Grey-Thompson

“It has been pointed out that Tanni Grey-Thompson is not an ally,” said a trans woman. What does it mean to be an ally to trans people? When do you become an anti-trans campaigner?

Tanni Grey-Thompson was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. She has won eleven Paralympic gold medals. In preparation for her retirement from the track, she expanded her television presenting career, and became a member of the House of Lords in 2010. In 2017 she prepared the Duty of Care in Sport report for the British Government, which devoted a section to “transition”, here meaning people who leave elite sport, including talented juniors who leave because of injury. She crafted her television career. Would a child who neglected studies for training, then was injured aged 18, be able to pick up their life and go to university? What of someone good enough to be funded to train, but not selected for international competition?

That report recommended “Further work needs to be carried out on the rules and support around transgender participants”. It does not mention hormones, or the details of the rules, or what it means to be trans. It recognises that LGBT people have particular difficulties engaging with sports.

Her appearance on the Today programme is preserved on the FPFW site, an anti-trans campaigning site. She shows a winsome modesty about her achievements. Not all people with spina bifida would have had the parental support she needed to get into elite wheelchair racing, and she said that sport is unfair because of how much money you have or who your parents are. She was invited on to speak about trans, and she said it was important to have a debate on the rules, women’s voices should be heard, and there should be an open respectful discussion.

The interviewer asks, do you fear male athletes might become trans to win medals? She says there is no evidence of that. At US State level, you can self-identify. Now is the time for sport to be future-proofed.

I find all this entirely reasonable. I wrote about trans women in women’s sports, but am not clear where the rules should be. As Lady Grey-Thompson points out, people push against doping rules. I say it is easy to tell who is trans. Elite female athletes might be suspicious of that. There is also a “debate”, where people radicalising in internet spaces where there are no contrary voices pick on sports as a case where it’s obviously unfair on women to have to compete against men.

Womans Place UK and Fair Play for Women, obscurely funded anti-trans organisations, had a meeting at the QEII Centre in central London of 750 “women’s rights activists and supporters”, according to the Morning Star. Tanni Grey-Thompson sent her best wishes by video link. “It’s really important that everyone has the chance to discuss the future of female sport and it’s only fair that women’s voices are part of that as well. A factual and respectful discussion must be allowed,” she said. I find the words completely unobjectionable. The only problem is the context: they give encouragement to an anti-trans campaign group’s event.

The event had Sharron Davies MBE as a speaker, and the Morning Star reports she lost out on gold to an East German female swimmer, part of the East German scheme to win medals by T doping. The Morning Star reports other concerns of elite women athletes: cyclists complain that their sporting body only wants to organise men’s races, and when women race it is seen as a curtain-raiser for the main event, the men’s race. Both the article and the event, that is, raise issues of unfairness to women wholly unrelated to trans rights. This is an objectionable tactic: it associates trans inclusion with unfairness to women in sport generally.

The event clearly did not promote a “factual and respectful discussion”, or greater knowledge of the issue of trans women in women’s sports. It did not hear from anyone in favour of trans women’s participation. Its medical expert was wholly committed to excluding trans women, or she would not have been invited. The attendees went away less informed than before: with more detail, but all the detail on one side, so less open to hearing the case for trans people. I think Tanni Grey-Thompson would have been able to find that out, had she wanted. Probably she knew it.

A school has named its houses after Mary Seacole, Freddie Mercury and Tanni Grey-Thompson. They were going to name one after JK Rowling, but have picked on Malory Blackman instead. This was just after Rowling’s anti-trans screed, and I saw the Pink News report today, with that comment: Tanni is not a trans ally. I agree. The school has removed Rowling’s name because she is so well known, and so overt in her anti-trans campaigning. Grey-Thompson is less well known, and less overt, but in endorsing that meeting she gave encouragement to anti-trans campaigners.

2 thoughts on “Tanni Grey-Thompson

  1. I’m not sure that by wishing them well that that translates to her being anti trans, it could just be good manners and being polite. The headline arguments of woman’s place and fair play for women are deliberately phrased to sound reasonable, and that’s what sucks most reasonable people in I’d guess. We know about these organisations because they affect or try to affect us directly, but if they don’t affect you that way, it’s understandable that you may not know of them.

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    • Yes. They have developed a vocabulary, “sex-based rights” etc, that enables them not to use the T word ever. Because there are still a few mixed sex wards, though all with different rooms for the sexes, they can even call for single sex wards without it obviously being only anti-trans. But Tanni’s expertise in the Lords and on TV is in sports. She is aware of the issues. She talked of the trans rules being “future-proofed” and indeed the number of transitioned people has increased by a factor of ten since 2000. Indeed in the Lords she would see how politics works: she knows when there is an “open debate” and when there is a campaign meeting. Yet she may not be entirely anti-trans. She has not spoken at their events. Abuse is never appropriate, and some terfs suffer hideous abuse- but I think she should be courteously challenged.

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