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Rugby player raises thousands in legal action against trans ban

Groups of protestors hold signs reading "let trans people play" during a Pride event.

A transgender rugby player has raised thousands in a fight against a policy banning trans women from participating in the sport.

Trans player Julie-Anne Curtiss launched legal action against the Rugby Football Union (RFU) after it updated a policy in 2022 effectively banning trans women from competitive play.

The policy, titled the RFU Gender Participation Policy, blanket-bans trans women from competitive play after governing officials updated restrictions in a vote on 29 July last year.

The RFU claimed that the policy was updated to uphold what it described as the “fairness of competition” while arguing that the union found “sufficient evidence” of the “physical differences between biological males and biological females” was significant enough to warrant a ban.

In response, Curtiss told ESPN in September 2022 that she believed the harshness of the newly enacted policy was having a significant mental health impact on her and several other trans players.

“I know that every single trans player who was affected by this decision suffered a great deal of mental anguish as a consequence of it, similar to mine,” she said.

“I just can’t believe the RFU didn’t stop and think … ‘We need to offer some kind of support to these people because we’re taking away something that’s clearly really important to them’.”

In an effort to gain support for the legal fight against the RFU’s policy, Curtiss ran a crowdfunding campaign on the website CrowdJustice titled ‘Fighting the ban on trans women in rugby’.

The campaign, which Curtiss wrote was to “challenge the legitimacy of RFU’s ban on trans women in rugby,” has since been deleted, but raised over £6,585 in the last week before it was officially set to end.

Her campaign to challenge the RFU is being supported by members of her team, including by cisgender positional coach Holly Taylor, who said in September that she has “never had any issue” with Curtiss during competitive play.

“I’ve tackled her, she’s tackled me, and she is no more of a threat to me than any other player in our team.

“We love having Julie-Anne at Hove RFC, not only for her personality but because of her exceptional rugby knowledge,” she added. “If you look at our team, you would not pick out Jullie-Anne as the player most likely to cause an injury.”

Not enough evidence to ban trans women from sports, experts say

Several experts across sports have explained that there is little to no evidence suggesting that trans women in competitive sports have an inherent advantage over cisgender women.

Endocrinologist Dr Ada Cheung said in July 2022 that most policies are based on “people’s opinion” rather than evidence.

“We actually don’t know if there’s a biological advantage for transgender women over cisgender women because the science is not clear,” she said.

Contact sports can be an issue where there is particular vitriol directed towards trans women due to the perception that they are a danger to cisgender women.

However, a contact sport roller derby team, the Cambridge Rollerbillies, and LGBTQ+ charity The Kite Trust told PinkNews in April that trans inclusivity has proved no issue during competitions.

“I think it’s a really refreshing change of attitude compared to a lot of sports and the way they’re heading at the moment,” team member Alison Hedley said.

Additionally, fellow team member and training officer, KP, said that The Kite Trust had heard an overwhelming number of trans youth say they feel disillusioned with sports because of policies such as the RFU’s.

“I’ve met young trans girls that we’ve worked with who said: ‘I now can’t play for my local rugby team, so what do I do? Where do I go?’”

PinkNews has contacted the Rugby Football Union for comment.

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