[Column] When ‘fairness’ means hate and violence

Posted on : 2024-05-16 17:08 KST Modified on : 2024-05-16 17:08 KST
Someday the discrimination against trans athletes today will be seen in the same light as the discrimination Black and women athletes once faced
People rally outside the Korean presidential office in Yongsan, Seoul, on May 14, 2022, to mark International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. (Kim Myoung-jin/The Hankyoreh) 
People rally outside the Korean presidential office in Yongsan, Seoul, on May 14, 2022, to mark International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. (Kim Myoung-jin/The Hankyoreh) 


By Kim Hee-won, professor of communications at Arizona State University 

“Be aware that if you sign this open letter, your name, position and employer will be made public.” 

For a moment, I instinctively flinched. After that, I felt a distinct sense of fear wash over me. I knew full well what it meant to be physically harmed. 

Thankfully, friends who are committed to protecting me rushed to my side, but there’s no telling when I’ll confront another threatening situation like that. 

In addition, far-right groups in the US have been passing around the photographs and profiles of “radical” professors. Anyone who searches online for “professor watchlist” can get access to the full list. That basically gives anyone willing to attack those professors an official excuse to do so. 

While these professors are labeled as “radical,” in reality most of the targeted professors are people of color, queer or their allies. At my school alone, two of the professors on the list have been terrorized. The excuse was that one of them is queer, and that the other supports trans rights. 

Perhaps because of frightening experiences of this sort, I’ve become a little scared of giving anyone an excuse to attack me in this age of backlash. And I’m no newcomer to signing statements. 

That’s the sad reality in a time when hate crimes are on the rise against anyone regarded as abnormal or a minority. 

Alongside many American scholars, I have signed an open letter addressed to the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA). Amazingly, the NCAA is considering policies that would ban transgender women from competing in women’s sports. If such policies are implemented, transgender athletes would be unable to compete in collegiate athletics — whether it’s popular sports or unpopular sports. 

Collegiate athletics in the US is a major industry. Rivalries among elite schools are broadcast live to the entire country. Athletes often receive full scholarships. Games are a major source of camaraderie for locals and alumni. As a result, collegiate sports are a major source of revenue.  

Yet sports is more than just an industry. For many athletes, they are life itself — the source of their dreams. They are the reason athletes love and affirm themselves. Such a discriminatory policy would strip away these dreams. That is why I had to sign.  

Many people claim that the inclusion of transgender women in women’s sports is unfair to “real women.” I’m not sure if these claims are based in hate, misinformation, or extreme and rare examples, but many people automatically assume that transgender women have an unfair advantage in women’s sports. Thanks to such selective ignorance, minorities continue to face injustice and violence.  

There is no scientific evidence that proves that transgender women have a competitive advantage, and neither biologists nor medical researchers have yet to offer any conclusive evidence that trans women have an upper hand. A recent review of the literature suggests that the few studies that do exist have major limiting factors and have been methodologically flawed. In American high schools that allow transgender girls to compete, there has been no decrease in cis girls’ participation in sports. In fact, in California high school schools, transgender athletes have resulted in increased participation in women’s sports. Inclusivity and diversity lead to greater participation.  

 For much of history, discrimination against women and people of color was openly sanctioned in the world of sports. Yet decisive changes came to such a hierarchical field. Someday the discrimination that trans athletes face will also be seen in the same light. 

Though smashing stereotypes and giving up privileges might not always be painless, there are more people out there endeavoring to take us beyond the discrimination and distinctions that we've learned and perpetuated. Leaving these ideas behind will open up diverse avenues that allow us to learn new ways of understanding differences and pursuing equity. 

May 17 is International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. The date marks the day in 1990 when the World Health Organization officially deleted homosexuality from its classifications of psychological disorders. There was once a time when homosexuality was seen as an illness requiring treatment, but that era ended 34 years ago. Someday in the future, those who believe that LGBTQ+ people should be discriminated against will fade into history as well, along with those who believe that there is some preordained "real gender" we all must live by from the moment we're born until we die.  

Rallies and marches will be held across the world to mark IDAHOBIT this year. Why don't you join us out in the streets, and lend your voice to our cheers for a world without hate? Maybe you'll catch a glimpse of the future that's to come. 

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr

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