Transgender Participants in Campus Recreation

September 18, 2012

Samantha Edelman
Assistant Manager – Facilities
San Jose State University

The average recreation user faces many challenges when seeking to participate within recreation programs and facilities, including time, money, family, and other obligations. The following article seeks to shine some light on a population that is often times misunderstood and overlooked — the transgender community. The article also shares a ‘Steps to Inclusive Recreation’ section as well as a Transgender Audit a department can use to ensure they are taking steps in the right direction.

Here are some brief definitions that will be used in this article:

Gender Identity — One’s Internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or a boy or a girl). usually developed during early childhood as a result of parental rearing practices and societal influences and strengthened during puberty by hormonal changes. For transgender people, their birth-assigned sex and their own internal sense of gender identity do not match.

Gender Expression — External manifestation of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through “masculine”, “feminine” or gender- variant behavior, clothing, haircut, voice or body characteristics. Typically transgender people seek to make their gender expression match their gender identity, rather than their birth-assigned sex.

Sex — The classification of people as male or female. At birth, infants are assigned a sex based on a combination of bodily characteristics including: chromosomes, hormones, internal reproductive organs, and genitals.

Sexual Orientation– one’s natural preference in sexual partners; predilection for homosexuality, heterosexuality, or bisexuality.

Transgender-An umbrella term (adj.) for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. The term may include but is not limited to: transsexuals, cross-dressers and other gender- variant people. Transgender people may identify as female-to-male (FTM) or male-to-female (MTF). Use the descriptive term (transgender, transsexual, cross-dresser, FTM or MTF) preferred by the individual. Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically.

Transsexual– a person having a strong desire to assume the physical characteristics and gender role of the opposite sex.
An older term which originated in the medical and psychological communities. While some transsexual people still prefer to use the term to describe themselves, many transgender people prefer the term transgender to transsexual.

Transman-“trans men” referred specifically to female-to-male transgender person

Transwoman-“trans woman” referred specifically to male-to-female transgender person

Heteronormativity– a term to describe the marginalization of non-heterosexual lifestyles and the view that heterosexuality is the normal sexual orientation. Those punitive rules (social, familial, and legal) that force us to conform to hegemonic, heterosexual standards for identity. The term is a short version of “normative heterosexuality.”

Sociological Lens
Prior to continuing is important to be aware of our Sociological Lens. We as individuals and a society tend to unknowingly view things, make decisions, and have opinions by using our sociological lens. So for instance, a straight female is likely to have a different outlook on her surroundings that a lesbian female. They may pull different messages from media, or gain a different sense of security of their surrounding by language or graphics. There are many factors that lead to how you view your surroundings, some are:

  • past experiences
  • family values
  • personal beliefs
  • cultural background
  • gender identity
  • sexual orientation

For example, if you are heterosexual, Valentines Day advertisements, “Couples Canoe Trip” that are primarily heteronormative potentially wouldn’t phase you. However, a lesbian or a gay couple may not think they are included or celebrated if the flyer shows male to female affection and vice versa.

Why is this important?
A recreation professional who does not identify as transgender, but is seeking ways to be inclusive to the transgender community, should be willing to understand the experience a trans person feels from the moment they enter the building. Using graphics such as stick figures, and hearts reaches further out to your members while a universal language. A simple adjustment can suggest to all the students that everyone’s welcomed without needing to emphasize the message.

Steps to Inclusive Recreation
Facilities: In 2003, the transgender law center started a “Safe Bathroom Access Campaign” (SBAC). The law center reports that they receive multiple complaints regarding harassment with respect to bathroom access. Here is a helpful guide that can be used to understand further the challenges transgender individuals face daily.

As we move forward with renovating and creating new recreation centers, it is important to keep the layout of your restrooms, locker rooms, and showering facilities in mind with respect to the trans community. For instance, open bay showers would not create a welcoming environment for someone who is pre-operative or has chosen not to have an operation to match their gender identity.

Memberships and Registrations: Many registration and membership forms are moving in a direction of allowing people to list their gender versus their sex. It allows people to self-identify rather than be bound to how society scientifically identified them at birth. Offering “Other”, as an option also allows less binary restrictions on ones identity.

Programming: Many universities such as the University of California – Davis have moved to offering Open Leagues. These leagues allow whomever to sign up and play without focusing on how one identifies. As for Club Sports, it is important to be familiar with governing bodies’ policies around transgender and drug usage. As of now, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tends to model the International Olympic Committee with respect to policies around competitive sports and transgender participation.

Policies: Policies around competitive sports such as Clubs and Intramurals should be in place to not only be inclusive but to protect all participants.
Here is an example of Washington State’s Sport Club policy regarding transgender participants:
“Individuals shall be permitted to participate in UREC Programs and at URECFacilities in accordance with that person’s consistently asserted gender identity.”

As demonstrated by the Valentines Day example, the way a department markets their programs should also reflect the atmosphere they are attempting to create. Colorado State University Campus Recreation has put on their main homepage that they are a “Safe Zone”.

Many universities Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Centers or Multicultural Centers offer “Safe Zones”. Colorado State University describes the training and it’s purpose:

“The Safe Zone program at Colorado State University is an educational program that educates both the campus and greater Fort Collins community how to create a safer more civil community for all individuals, particularly our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) members.
The core of the program has been designed with the following four goals in mind.

(1) Increased visibility and knowledge for GLBT people and concerns in the community.
(2) Increased support for GLBT people.
(3) Increased understanding of civility and respectful interactions.
(4) Increased safe spaces for GLBT people.

Another way to market an inclusive environment is to incorporate it into ones mission and values statement. Familiarizing oneself with the university’s and state’s mission statement would be valuable as well in determining whom they seek to protect.

Another vital part of creating an inclusive venue and program for transgender participants comes down to training. As previously mentioned, Safe Zones are a great way to take a step in the right direction. A Recreation Department can partner with their Diversity or LGBT department in the community to offer Safe Zones or similar training to staff.

SafeZones combined with recreation-based scenarios can help a recreational area be more prepared.

Here are two scenarios you can use to work through with your department and student staff:

Scenarios 1 and 2 :

Scenario 1: You are the Intramural Coordinator and receive a call from your Intramural Supervisor who tells you that in the final seconds of a Co-Rec Flag Football Championship game a transwoman, born biologically male but identifies as female, catches a pass and scores a touchdown. As you may know, in Co-rec football, when a woman is involved in a touchdown pass, the touchdown is worth 9 points instead of 6 points. If a male player completes a pass to a male teammate, it is scored as 6 points. Your referees counted the pass as a female touchdown, which then placed the scoring team as the champions rather than tied had it been counted as a male -to -male touchdown. The other team refuses to get off the field and wants the touchdown counted as a 6 point touchdown so the game can continue into overtime.

Scenario 2: You are the Aquatics Coordinator. A parent comes to you appalled that there is a man dressed in woman’s clothing in the Women’s changing room. She does not want to take her daughter in there until this is resolved.

The issues highlighted in the above scenarios lead us to another important area: Legal

The two scenarios above can be addressed by using the audit provided in the next section. If you have taken the appropriate steps with respect to policies, training, marketing, resources, and general awareness then you would be prepared to address these plausible situations.

For any policy developed, it is really important to follow it through. Meaning: if you have a policy but do not have procedures in place to truly back up the policy, then the department may be putting themselves in more at risk than not having the policy at all.

It is important to keep that in mind when moving forward.
AUDIT: Take a moment to evaluate your department to see how you are doing, and in what areas your department can improve. Download the audit:

As we move forward in Campus Recreation with respect to our Transgender patrons, many of us in the field have a long way to go. It is important to keep these challenges and barriers in mind with consideration to, remodels, construction of new facilities, staff training, and program and policy development in order to create an inclusive environment.


Glad Media Reference Guide- Trangender Glossary of Terms. (2010). Retrieved April 18, 2012, from

Transgender Law Center: Issues. (2012). Retrieved May 11, 2012 from

Washington State University’s Intramural Sports Handbook. (2012). Reviewed February 23, 2012 from

Colorado State Campus Recreation. (2012). Reviewed February 23, 2012 from

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