Cycling Needs to Take a Stand on Arkansas’s Anti-Transgender Legislation

Molly Cameron as told to Molly Hurford
·9 min read
Photo credit: Daghan Perker
Photo credit: Daghan Perker

Over the last several days, Arkansas has made national headlines for passing anti-transgender legislation that Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) LGBT & HIV Project, described to NBC News as “the most extreme anti-trans law to ever pass through a state legislature.”

Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson signed a law banning trans girls and women from participating in school and university sports consistent with their gender identity. And the Arkansas legislature has approved a bill that will restrict access to healthcare for trans folks.

In the cycling community, these discriminatory laws have caused some riders to call for a boycott of the state, which would include a Cyclocross World Cup event in October and the 2022 Cyclocross World Championships, both set to take place in Fayetteville. Here, transgender cyclocross legend Molly Cameron shares her thoughts on a potential boycott and how the cycling community can move toward true inclusivity.

I’m the type of person who thinks it is important to accept that people can have different views and hold different opinions. But when it comes to hate and oppression, I do not accept that.

This legislation is oppressive. It is hateful. It is telling marginalized kids that they can’t play sports because they’re different. And that they can’t have access to healthcare because they’re different. It does not appear that the reality of how discriminatory and damaging this legislation is has hit the cycling industry yet.

This past year we have seen many cycling brands talk a lot about diversity and inclusion in an effort to be seen as allies. But right now many of them aren’t saying anything or are making statements without reaching out to any transgender people or athletes. That is not allyship. Instead we’re seeing people and brands covering their asses, then complaining that they’re being inconvenienced. The LGBTQ community in cycling feels let down and angry.

Yes, a few businesses, individuals, and organizations have made statements saying that they disagree with these new laws, but I’ll be honest, the statements feel performative. To just write up a quick statement that you’re ‘upset about these laws and disagree with them, but you are just going to keep doing what you are doing because you are a good person’ … That is not actually doing anything. I would love it if those with power and influence came together with the LGBTQ community to start a dialogue and come up with some action plans.

So, let’s talk about the power of a boycott. Arkansas is host to more than just two big cyclocross races: There are huge gravel events, there are mountain bike races, there are road races, and there are millions of dollars in cycling tourism in Arkansas at this moment. Imagine the impact if those dollars dried up.

As someone deeply invested in the cyclocross community for the last two decades, I understand why the World Championships and World Cup are the events people are talking about the most. They are major international races organized by the UCI that shine a spotlight on cycling in the United States.

The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and USA Cycling (USAC) both have constitutions and mission statements that run counter to these new laws. The UCI constitution states that it will hold activities “without racial, political, religious, gender-related or other discrimination.” Meanwhile the USAC says, “We believe that sport is inclusive. People should feel comfortable participating in cycling, regardless of gender, gender identity, race, class, or any other perceived difference.”

Technically, the UCI World Championships aren’t governed by Arkansas’s new rules for scholastic sport, but consider this: The junior and U23 field at Worlds is made up of athletes in the age groups that are directly impacted by this rule. If it was a college event—for instance, collegiate cyclocross Nationals—being held in Arkansas, USA Cycling would be forced to confront the issue more head-on. As it stands, the National Interscholastic Cycling League in Arkansas (and at the national level) certainly will have to come forward with a policy since many of the teams are school-based and thus would be subject to the new law.

Worlds race director Brook Watts called the laws discriminatory and hateful in an open letter that he posted on his personal Twitter, but also asked the cycling community to not boycott the event. I wish he would have at least mentioned exploring the option of moving to a venue outside of Arkansas instead of defending the volunteers and work the race organization and city has done already. Moving a World Championship race isn’t without precedent: When the U.S. held the World Championships in 2013, the whole event was forced to move the day before the race because of flooding. Right now, we have 10 months until Worlds on January 29 and 30, 2022.

I’ve promoted races before, so I get it: It’s not a simple task to make venue changes. Normally, you’re just worried about pounding in stakes and setting a course, and suddenly your entire event is in jeopardy because the state you’re hosting it in has done something awful.

Will it be hard on businesses and events based in Arkansas if there’s a boycott of cycling tourism and races there? Of course. But they are not the victims. In fact, people like a race director for a major international sporting event are in positions of influence. Our national cycling governing body has power and influence, as do all of the global brands invested in cycling in Arkansas. They can absolutely affect change in the state.

The real victims are the young people navigating identity and just trying to be themselves in a state that clearly does not care about them. Being transgender is challenging and potentially dangerous, and it’s especially hard for transgender youth. I don’t feel bad for the businesses. I ache for the young people who will be affected by these laws, who won’t be able to access critical healthcare or know the joy of playing sports and being welcome and accepted into an athletic community.

If there is a boycott yes, it will be inconvenient. But give me a break. Growing up transgender or queer is not wildly convenient. If there is a general Arkansas boycott, these events and brands and cities must realize that while it may feel unfair, it is far more unfair to the people being oppressed. Children’s lives are at stake and these brands and event promoters may now just get a taste of the shit that the LBGTQ community has been dealing with our entire lives. (And, while these laws are hugely discriminatory and damaging to the LGBTQ community as a whole, legislation like this disproportionately impacts BIPOC members of the community.)

These human and civil rights battles are emotionally and physical draining. The last four years have been exhausting. And people don’t have long attention spans for issues like this that tend to move slowly. This won’t be resolved this week. We will be lucky if the legal challenges to the new laws are underway by the time the World Cup happens in October.

We’re waiting to see how legal action from the ACLU plays out. We’re also waiting to see how the NCAA reacts: The new legislation does not just affect cycling, it affects all scholastic sports. We saw how powerful the NCAA was when North Carolina passed similar discriminatory laws.

I don’t feel like I’ve ever been a leader in trans activism in sport—certainly, there are bigger and louder voices than mine. But I am fine being the person to write this, to speak up, to help educate and inform people and brands in bicycling. I am one of the very few out and openly transgender professional cyclists, as bike racing is not a particularly welcoming place for transgender folks. I am well-established in the cycling industry and am in a strong position to advocate for the youth being affected in Arkansas and other states. My sponsors are all aware that I will talk about this openly and they support me in it. But far too many other trans folks in the sport are in vulnerable or potentially compromising positions.

Consider that new riders, juniors and U23 athletes who may be LGBTQ, are not in a position to put their careers, personal and family lives at risk to advocate for what is clearly an uphill battle within the racing community and industry.

But if I can move this forward at all, in any way I can, then I’m all in.

You can be too. Anyone can advocate for transgender rights by paying attention, learning, and by making calls, sending emails, or donating. You can make noise and vote with your wallet. You can continue this conversation on your social media. You can lean on businesses and organizations in cycling to be accountable and make statements that include action plans and to back them up. You can ask the UCI to push for a venue change if the laws are upheld.

Strange as it is to say with everything happening right now, I’m still hopeful. Let’s be clear, these laws are massive human rights violations. But right now, the news of the bills is fresh, so I am giving these Arkansas-based events and brands a little time to decide what they’re going to do.

And while I’m not calling for a boycott at the moment, I won’t be going to the World Cup or World Championships if they stay in Arkansas. I will not be spending any money in Arkansas or any other state that is passing laws that discriminate against the LGBTQ community. But I am putting the work in and am hopeful that things will change.

Molly Cameron (@themollycameron) is an openly transgender entrepreneur and champion athlete. Among other things, she runs a professional women’s cycling team and development program and works to improve the level of professionalism, support, visibility, and parity for the LGBTQ and BIPOC communities in cycling with the Portland Sports Group.

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