Cycling champion apologizes for transphobic comments after world championship

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Meghan DeMaria
Cycling champion apologizes for transphobic comments after world championship
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What started out like any other sporting competition became a source of contention and transphobia this week.After Dr. Rachel McKinnon won the UCI Masters Track World Championship last weekend, bronze medalist Jen Wagner-Assali, as well as a number of fans, hurled transphobic remarks at McKinnon, who is a transgender woman, The Daily Mail reported. Wagner-Assali has since apologized for her comments.

The controversy started when Wagner-Assali responded to a tweet from British media personality Katie Hopkins. Hopkins shared a photo of the three medalists from the event, writing, “For clarity – this was the WOMENS world championships. I repeat. Women’s. Congratulations to the brave faces of silver & bronze. The world is gripped by a febrile madness.”

Wagner-Assali responded to Hopkins’ tweet on Monday, writing, “I was the 3rd place rider. It’s definitely NOT fair.”

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While many people responded in agreement with Wagner-Assali’s opinion, others commented that her words were transphobic.

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On Thursday, Wagner-Assali tweeted that her comments “weren’t productive or positive,” adding that she regretted her initial tweets.

“After having some time to reflect, I realize my twitter comments earlier this week unintentionally fanned the flames on a controversial situation, and that I regret,” Wagner-Assali wrote. “I made the comments out of a feeling of frustration, but they weren’t productive or positive.”

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The bronze medalist also asked fans to “please stop directing hateful or derogatory comments toward Rachel or trans people in general.”

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Wagner-Assali also took the time to congratulate McKinnon on her first-place win. “I apologize, @rachelvmckinnon, for not properly congratulating you on race day,” Wagner-Assali tweeted. “I hope you accept it a few days late. Congratulations and enjoy your off-season.”

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Still, Wagner-Assali’s last tweet indicates that she may still think the Union Cycliste Internationale rules are “fair.”

“There’s a group of us working on getting the rules changed but we are going to fight it offline, not in the name-calling angry world of social media,” the cyclist tweeted. “I’m choosing to move on in a positive way.”

The second-place medalist from the recent competition, meanwhile, shared her disagreement with Wagner-Assali in a tweet Monday. Silver medalist Carolien van Herrikhuyzen tweeted that athletes don’t identify as transgender because they want to “steal anyone’s medal.”

“We had an honest race under UCI rules. If you compete you accept the rules, otherwise, don’t compete,” van Herrikhuyzen tweeted. “I can only imagine what she had to go through in her life to be where she is now, how hard it is to fit in.”

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McKinnon, an assistant professor of philosophy at the College of Charleston, has also been active on Twitter this week, sharing plenty of thoughts about her win. McKinnon posted a number of tweets about her testosterone levels, reminding her critics that she was well within her rights to compete in the race.

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McKinnon also tweeted that as a transgender athlete, she’s faced harassment for her cycling participation. In one tweet, the race winner suggested that Wagner-Assali may have violated USA Cycling’s official harassment policy. “I also recommend Jennifer and Sarah go read the @usacycling policy against Harassment, which includes creating hostile environments or disparaging remarks against people *on the basis of gender identity,*” McKinnon tweeted.

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The first-place medalist also made it clear that she doesn’t accept Wagner-Assali’s apology, given the bronze medalist’s last tweet about “getting the rules changed.”

“This is why the apology is not accepted: she still thinks what she said. She merely apologizes for being caught saying it publicly,” McKinnon tweeted. “She wants to ban trans women from competing. They will fail: the IOC openly allowed us in 2003 and revised their policies in 2015.”

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Wagner-Assali may not agree with the Union Cycliste Internationale’s policy, but it’s nice to at least see her ask her followers not to hurl transphobic comments at McKinnon and others. A Human Rights Campaign report, Violence Against the Transgender Community, found that “fatal violence” led to the deaths of at least 29 transgender people in the United States last year.

Transgender women all too often face violence and discrimination, not to mention things like the harassment and insults directed at McKinnon after her win. Opinions about sporting regulations aside, transphobia is still rampant, and this isn’t an issue that’s going away anytime soon.

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