Lawrence activists plan demonstration at bike race that bars transgender people from men’s and women’s categories

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Post last updated at 5:54 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13:

Lawrence activists are planning a demonstration in solidarity with transgender cyclists during a race Saturday that does not allow trans people to participate in the race categories that align with their gender identities.

The Belgian Waffle Ride recently changed its policies to no longer allow trans women to race in the women’s categories, nor allow trans men to race in the men’s categories.

Instead, transgender cyclists must race in a third category, Gender Diverse, for “Racers whose gender identity or expression may not match their gender assigned at birth.”

Local activists, including folks with Trans Lawrence Coalition, Lawrence Queer Collective, Women-Led Cycling, Jungle House and Wonder Fair, are planning the demonstration to celebrate trans pride, show solidarity and stand against the policy that they say is disrespectful of transgender women’s identities as women, and of trans men’s identities as men.

“We believe that inclusivity, safety and respect for all individuals should be a fundamental principle in sports and society,” activists said in a joint message. “BWR’s treatment of trans people goes against these values, and we seek to peacefully raise awareness of the harm they’ve caused while showing our support for the trans community.”

Macey Webb, Trans Lawrence Coalition member and events chairperson, said via email that “This ride and its transphobic policies are not in line with the values of the City of Lawrence or its residents.”

“We, as a city, should all resent being used as a location for a cycling organization to stage an event that now holds tightly to making an unpopular point with the enactment of their transphobic policies,” they said. “This ride doesn’t belong in Lawrence, Kansas, and frankly, it doesn’t belong anywhere. Trans women are women. Trans men are men.”

Webb noted that BWR’s policy change occurred soon after a transgender woman won the race in another state. “Trans cyclists deserve respect inside their gender categories, *especially* when they win,” they said.

Monuments of Cycling, the event production firm behind BWR, said in an emailed response to questions that “We’re afraid the policy and our positioning are both being misrepresented.”

The response said that “BWR fully respects and supports the right of individuals to choose the sex that they identify as,” but went on to say, “For the fairness of competition we ask that riders race in the category that corresponds to their gender identity, whatever sex they were assigned at birth, or race in the gender diverse category. We feel we have a duty to guarantee, above all, equal opportunities for all competitors in our cycling events.”

“We want to be as inclusive as possible, and we recognize that some of our participants identify as transgender or non-binary. These participants have every right to compete. But we also recognize the importance of ensuring the fairness of our competitive events for all participants,” the response continued.

BWR first announced the policy change in a Facebook post on July 7, to take effect Aug. 1. It has since modified the policy, which previously allowed “Racers who were born and/or identify as male” to compete in the men’s category.

Its current categories are as follows, according to MoC’s email response:
” • Women – Racers who were assigned female at birth
” • Men – Racers who were assigned male at birth
” • Gender Diverse – Racers whose gender identity or expression may not match their gender assigned at birth”

MoC pointed to a policy change from UCI — Union Cycliste Internationale, the global governing body for cycling. The organization announced in July that it was changing its policy, and “female transgender athletes who have transitioned after (male) puberty will be prohibited from participating in women’s events on the UCI International Calendar – in all categories – in the various disciplines.” UCI had previously allowed trans women to compete in women’s events.

“They offer no opportunity for trans athletes to compete in anything but their assigned gender at birth. … We didn’t take that route… that’s why we’re offering equal (prize) money for the female, male, AND gender diverse categories,” MoC wrote. “We are also committed to doing the work around diversity, equity, and inclusion, and these categories may change as understanding evolves.”

Webb said transgender, gender-nonconforming and nonbinary athletes have always existed in sports, and intersex people have been around since the dawn of humankind.

“Inside of the categories where binary men and women are racing, individual differences in hormone levels, and possibly even more significantly, income levels, support systems, societal approval, dietary concerns and other things that influence racing performance exist,” they said. “The ‘fairness’ argument that BWR is making for their ‘Open’ category is a decoy obscuring the fact that sport has been trying to ignore people who won’t fit neatly into their colonized, historically inaccurate binaries for centuries, and it wasn’t ever ‘fair,’ but maybe some day it will be equitable.”

The event was selected as a recipient of a $12,000 Transient Guest Tax (TGT) grant from the City of Lawrence. A spokesperson for the city confirmed Friday that the event had received that funding months ago, and that the city had issued a special use permit for parking and an event expo location after the BWR submitted the required application.

The annual grants were approved in December 2022, long before the policy change occurred. However, particularly with the city’s Aug. 1 passage of Ordinance No. 9999, which expands local protections for transgender and gender-nonconforming people in the wake of Kansas’ recent anti-trans legislation, activists said they believe BWR does not align with the Lawrence community’s values.

No Lawrence city commissioners had responded to a request for comment sent via email Friday morning as of just before 6 p.m. Friday.

BWR will not offer people their registration fees back if they no longer wish to participate in the race because of the policy change. MoC said they “will give credit to a rider to take part in any of our other events, if they cannot make the event for one reason or another.”

Activists plan to be onsite where the race ends, at 102 N. Eighth St. in North Lawrence, all day from 7:15 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, but they hope to have the largest gathering as pro riders are finishing from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., they said.

Some parking may be available at the North Lawrence Train Depot at 402 N. Second St., but parking will be limited, so organizers encourage carpooling, walking and biking if possible.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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