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New media guidelines from the Olympics state that calling trans athletes ‘biological males’ is deemed ‘harmful’

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The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recently updated its “Portrayal Guidelines” to urge media not to use terms like “biological male” or “biological female” when referring to transgender athletes. The guidelines aim to promote gender equality and fair representation of all athletes across all forms of media. The document, released just weeks ahead of the Summer Olympics in Paris, provided practical tips on how to avoid gender-based stereotypes and preconceptions when covering athletes. It also highlighted key barriers to equal portrayal in sports, such as the lack of recognition of female athletes compared to their male counterparts.

The language guide recommended using gender-inclusive terms like “humankind” instead of “mankind” and “partner/spouse” instead of “husband/wife.” It also classified terms related to the biological reality of trans athletes, such as “biologically male” or “biologically female,” as harmful and dehumanizing language practices to avoid. The guide emphasized the importance of respecting a person’s actual gender identity and avoiding references to their sex category as listed on their original birth certificate. Additionally, it discouraged the use of terms like “sex change” or “transsexual” when discussing transgender athletes.

The IOC’s updated guidelines come amid increased awareness of gender discrimination and stereotypes in sports media coverage. The guide provided guidance on how to write about female athletes in a way that is not sexist, such as refraining from comparisons to male athletes and focusing on their individual achievements. It also addressed issues like gender pay gaps and the tendency to focus on female athletes’ appearances more than men’s. The document included quotes from IOC officials condemning gender discrimination and promoting gender equality in sports.

The IOC’s language guide was influenced by GLAAD’s Media Reference Guide and its guides on covering LGBTQ athletes at the Olympics and Paralympics. GLAAD, which stands for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, is a prominent LGBTQ advocacy organization in the United States. The guide referenced by the IOC emphasized the importance of using respectful and accurate language when discussing transgender athletes and discouraging harmful stereotypes. While the IOC did not immediately respond to requests for comment, the updated guidelines reflect a broader effort to promote inclusivity and diversity in sports media coverage.

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