I’m here to talk about my amazing Football Club. To set the scene for you a little I’m just going to read this out in full:
The Following Bats Women’s Football Club is committed to a safe, fair and inclusive sporting environment. We’re all persons regardless of gender identity or intersex status and contribute, participate and be treated fairly with dignity and respect. We believe in promoting football for all. We are a women’s club but we recognise that gender isn’t binary. Not all people are or identify as female or male, women or men. We also acknowledge that strong evidence exists that trans, gender diverse and intersex people face significant barriers to participation in sport and when they do participate frequently face discrimination and harassment. We aim to do what we can as a club to overcome this.
So I’m here to talk to you about my Club’s gender and sex diversity policy, which we developed last year, but a little bit of background first of all, a bit about who we are and how we got here so in a Camperdown street in Sydney in 1985 a small group of lesbians decided that they were going to play soccer. They got a team together. They rounded up anybody that could walk and the Flying Bats Women’s Football Club was born. From these simple beginnings the Bats have persevered, endured, triumphed and grown into the oldest and largest lesbian soccer club in the world; IN THE WORLD. I think I deserve a round of applause for the Bats for that! Do you know how hard it is to organise lesbians for 30-plus years, like herding cats!
So over the course of the Bats 30-plus year history we don’t know exactly how many women have played for the Club but it’s got to be in the 1,000s and we now maintain a steady membership of 120 players each year. That day in 1985 wasn’t just about doing something sporty for the fun of it, though that is and always has been a very big part of the Club. Those founders were well aware that what they were doing was also a political act, which I think is very pertinent to the discussion at the moment about sport and politics not mixing that I call bullshit.
The Flying Bats Football Club was formed as a means of providing women with a sense of support and community at a time when options were very limited and lesbians were subjected to multiple forms of prejudice and discrimination. In that time we’ve been joined by players from all over the world and we’ve taken the Bats to the world. We’ve represented at the Gay Games in Sydney, Vancouver, Cologne and next year we’re off to Paris. We’ve also competed in the Out Games in Antwerp and the Asia Pacific Out Games in Darwin and Wellington. We battle every year for the Julie Murray Cup as part of the Pride Football Tournament, a tournament we co-organise with Sydney Rangers, a gay men’s team and the Melbourne Rovers, the tournament which incidentally is on this weekend here in Melbourne so if you want to know about it and head along hit me up later.
As for myself I’m a life member of the Bats. I played with the Club from 2003 to 2015. I served two years as President and a total of seven years on the management committee. The Club is run solely by volunteers and the vast majority of those are also current players, so they play and they volunteer for the Club. We also have a policy of inclusiveness albeit an unofficial and undocumented one and for those of you who can’t read what is up here on the screen I’m just going to read some quotes from some players:
It was just so amazing in those first few years how open and accepting and how diverse the whole team was and that’s from Ingrid, who was a player in 1986.
I think it’s gone from where we’re a group of lesbians that want to play soccer to actually providing quite an important support resource to people in the community. Anna who was a player from 2002 and she still plays and also a life member.
Thirty years is a long time especially in queer years, they’re kind of like dog years and the world has changed. In the 1980’s it was the feminist and lesbian separatist movements that informed the founding of the Bats. Now we find ourselves in a different place. There’s a greater understanding of the complexities of gender and the Club’s membership has changed to reflect those complexities.
So why did we need a policy? Now there’s plenty of evidence out there that shows that not everyone has equal access to sport. I think we all acknowledge this. The Come Out to Play report was published in 2010 and a few of the authors are here today, recognised that transgression from norms around gender and sexuality is punished in sport, particularly in team sport. Now we’ve always prided ourselves on being a safe and welcoming Club and we wanted to protect our members from punishment. While we don’t impose on anyone to disclose their trans or intersex status to us, we knew we had several players who were gender nonconforming or non-binary, some who were trans and some who were mid-transition.
So we turned to the Football Federation of Australia, our governing body, for their Member Protection Policy to find out what sort of protections were in place and that policy states “In general the FFA will facilitate transgender persons participating in football with the gender with which they identify. As you can imagine the “in general” didn’t quite cut it for us. To be fair they’ve since updated the wording of that policy and they are now committed, but this was what we were working with at the time. Semantics aside, you can perhaps see our challenge. How do we protect our players who didn’t identify as women and therefore not strictly covered by the FFA Policy?
We also didn’t want to have to go all the way to Football NSW or the FFA should the Bats be required to defend our players. We wanted to get on the front foot with a strong policy that reflected out Club culture and took the burden of proof off of our members and please don’t take this as a complete criticism of the FFA, the policy is quite good and they’ve done well, but we needed to take it further. Here on the ground with our players the reality is beyond their policy and as Tim mentioned earlier up here before you can do it with your head but you’ve also got to do it with your heart so that really spoke to me and what we did was we created this policy with our heart.
So what is the policy? I’m just going to run through some of the key points. You can go to the flyingbats.com and download the full policy there. It’s publicly available but these are the key points up on the screen, which I’m also going to read out for you just in case you can’t quite see.
FBFC will facilitate registrations from players who identify as women including trans and intersex women – so no change from the FFA policy there.
Secondly, FBFC will facilitate registrations from players who do not identify as women if they are transgender diverse or intersex and would not feel comfortable or safe playing for a Club other than FBFC and their exclusion from the Club would result in exclusion from the sport. That last point is I guess the most important point. We wanted to make sure that we were a welcoming Club and we weren’t turning anyone away from football.
I feel like we have one of the most progressive and gender and sex diversity policies of any Club out there at this point I mean perhaps with the exception of Roller Derby which we talked about before. We’re very, very proud of it. We’ve had so much positive feedback from other LGBTIQ teams and clubs in Sydney and several are now working on their own policies.
Now this is where I wanted to throw this out to you guys a little bit. Players are already with us. We wanted to protect them. We consulted them every step of the way so we knew that we wouldn’t really have any challenges internally within the Club with the acceptance of our policy. Does anyone have any thoughts or could guess how others might have reacted to our policy?
Absolutely and I think we all understand here that that’s something we need to be proactive and be on the front foot and be welcoming. That wasn’t quite what I was thinking about though so let me mention a couple. Does anyone know who Caster Sememya is? Does anyone know about what people are talking about with Caster at the moment and this is what I’m alluding to is this idea of unfair advantage. What we wanted to do was get on the front foot with this because even though we hadn’t had a written policy in the past, we’d often have people come up on the sidelines to us saying “oh, that player over there, he is so much better than everyone else”. There was just this concept that if you let someone in that wasn’t stereotypically feminine and female that therefore they would ultimately have this unfair advantage so what we state in the policy to counter that is that we reject any suggestion that transgender diverse or intersex people have an unfair advantage over cisgendered women.
Now we’ve looked into the research and we’ve provided it in our policy and I highly recommend you go and take a look at that. I think one of the things to remember and to keep in mind is that this is a grassroots club. This is a Sunday kick and giggle. We’re not the Matilda’s but also with the exclusion of trans and gender diverse people from sport they haven’t had that experience of playing since they were kids in many cases so this idea of unfair advantage to us just seems ridiculous particularly as well as grade our players unlike some of the other clubs we play against so everyone is put in a team that is in line with their ability and their skills.
So having defended that what can you do? Read it. There’s a lot in there. I’ve only touched on the key points. There is plenty of solid research to back up our position as I’ve said. I highly recommend you follow through and read through the reports that we’ve referenced, share it, use it, adopt it, appropriate it, steal it, whatever, develop your own policy. Feel free to come up to me and ask me about it later, contact the Club. It’s there. We’ve created it to share.
What’s next for our Club? We’ve established this policy but this is just the beginning. We’ve also established a transgender diverse and intersex working party of members to guide and advise the club in this area. We’re working on updating our Code of Conduct, developing sensitivity training and an action plan to guide players, referees, clubs and coaches both within and external to our Club.