In recent years, transgender-identifying athletes have been seen as role models for members of 2SLGBTQI+ communities. Setting personal and world-records, these icons have fulfilled many “firsts” for the sports community and spread positive messages for the inclusion of queer youth in athletics. Below, we highlight three trans athletes who have served as mentors for the greater community, while also excelling in their disciplines.
The Canadian women’s soccer team won gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for the first time in the team’s history. Alongside them, midfielder Quinn set records of their own, becoming the “first openly transgender, non-binary person to win an Olympic medal.”
Quinn has made multiple appearances with the Canadian women’s soccer team at international events, including FIFA World Cups and two Olympic games. During the 2020 Olympics, they were on the team’s starting lineup for most games, including their gold medal win.
Quinn came out publicly as transgender on their Instagram in 2020, later telling BBC Sport that they decided to use their “platform” as an athlete to be “visible.” In their interview with BBC Sport, Quinn relayed that, “It’s really difficult when you don’t see people like yourself in the media or even around you or in your profession. I was operating in the space of being a professional footballer and I wasn’t seeing people like me.”
Hammer thrower Keelin Godsey was the first American transgender athlete to compete for a spot on the US Olympic team. Although Godsey did not qualify for the 2012 Summer London Olympics, he started the conversation about transgender athletes in sports.
Godsey is a male-identifying transgender athlete who competed in women’s hammer throw events. His identity posed some difficulties. Godsey had to forego medical treatments for transitioning during his career as an athlete on a women’s team to fulfill his elite athlete identity.
Following the 2012 London Olympics, Godsey competed in male hammer throw for one season and then retired. He now works as a physical therapist and advocates for transgender healthcare and representation.
Lia Thomas is a well-known transgender American swimmer and recent student at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). According to ESPN, in March of this year, she became the first trans athlete to win the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I championship—a national competition dedicated to the success of college athletes. In the 500-yard freestyle swim, Thomas finished with a record speed of “4 minutes, 33.24 seconds.”
In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Thomas expressed her need to compete in women’s sports—despite the controversy that her win has sparked amongst US sports fans. “I just want to show trans kids and younger trans athletes that they’re not alone. They don’t have to choose between who they are and the sport they love,” she said in the interview.
In July of this year, UPenn nominated Thomas for the “2022 NCAA Woman of the Year” award. In spite of this, FINA, the International Olympic Committee, “banned transgender athletes” from participating in swimming. While this news is unfortunate for Thomas, she will not give up that easily. With support from her teammates and family, Thomas continues to fight for trans rights in sports to create a brighter future for young trans athletes.