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Athletes, activists see Fayetteville World Cup as opportunity to counter trans legislation

Arkansas transgender legislation prompted some to call for boycotting of cycling events. Now though, some trans advocates say showing up makes more of a difference.

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This spring, the passage of anti-trans legislation in Arkansas incited a few days of outrage on social media in parts of the cycling community. Many called for boycotts of events held in the state, especially a 2021 cyclocross World Cup and the 2022 ‘cross world championships.

On Wednesday, the World Cup comes to Fayetteville, and the din around the ethics of holding bike races in Arkansas has largely died down.

Now, some athletes and activists have shifted their focus to having dialogues in-person at events, in the hopes that presence proves more powerful than absence.

Austin Killips, a trans woman who races with Pratt Racing and was named by USA Cycling as alternate for the Fayetteville World Cup, said that given the opportunity to compete in Arkansas, she would have, without question.

“Our team and I were all in on being willing to go down there and line up and race and participate,” Killips told VeloNews. “I think it’s an important thing to do. I understand the desire and motivation for some folks to boycott. And why people who aren’t racers who aren’t going to feel safe visiting, spectating or racing amateur. But it felt like, if it happened it would have been symbolically significant. Regardless of your legislation, the rules of the sport that we’re participating in say something otherwise. So we’re gonna show up and race and do the thing.”

In April, some mountain bikers grappled with the decision to attend the U.S. Cup events in Fayetteville after the passage of multiple anti-trans bills in the Arkansas House. Although most athletes — and brands — ultimately chose to attend the event, some denounced the bills by issuing statements, selling merchandise with supportive messaging, or, in the case of athletes, adorning their bikes or bodies with symbols of support.

Killips said that she has seen similar behavior during the initial 2021 ‘cross season.

“It has been reassuring and affirming to see all the RIDE [Riders Inspiring Diversity and Equality] armbands at races,” she said. “It feels like there’s a lot of support and solidarity out there. It doesn’t feel like it’s an elephant in the room that no one is discussing.”

The notion of a boycott of anything cycling-related in Arkansas largely seems to have lost steam. Some in the sport believe that in order for a boycott to be effective, it has to come from the same place that the dollars do — the industry itself, not individual racers.

“You pick Arkansas as the place you boycott and then it’s like, this legislation is moving through a lot of state legislatures,” Killips said. “I think for a boycott to be effective, it can’t be an individual thing. I think it would have had to have been something collectively organized. Even racers boycotting isn’t as significant as promoters and the various brands associated with it boycotting. In some ways, I feel like the ship has sailed as a strategy to apply pressure. It doesn’t seem like a useful tactic to intervene and change these bills.”

Killips did not make the selection for Fayetteville, but she will race JingleCross. (Photo: Kyle Helson)

Instead, attention has shifted to the organizations on the ground, in Arkansas and across the country, who are working to combat the harmful effects of the legislation. According to Lauren Hildreth, the events manager for Bike NWA, a cycling advocacy organization in northwest Arkansas, bike races present an opportunity to spread the messaging that anti-trans legislation is destructive to communities, families, and individuals, but they are not necessarily the problem.

“This isn’t really about bikes,” she said. “This is an issue facing humans who are living in these states. Bikes are an avenue to reach more people, new people. We’re trying to grab the attention of the cycling community and hope that others from our northwest Arkansas community will participate as well. There’s an intersectionality of queer organizations or LGBTQ groups and BIPOC groups and marginalized population advocacy groups reminding people that these issues are still facing members of their communities.”

On Tuesday evening ahead of Wednesday’s World Cup, Bike NWA is hosting a Pass the Mic session, “a panel discussion whose goal it is to bring the community together to listen, learn, identify and problem-solve ways to support diversification in cycling, trails, and active transportation,” Hildreth said. 

Molly Cameron, Elyse Rylander, Cody Stuessy, and KC Cross make up the Pass the Mic panel ahead of Wednesday’s World Cup race in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Hildreth will moderate Tuesday’s panel, which is free and open to the public and will be streamed live on the organization’s Facebook page. Panelists include trans activist and professional cyclist Molly Cameron; Elyse Rylander, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion manager at Quality Bicycle Products and founder of OUT There Adventures; Cody Steussy, assistant director at Rogers Activity Center and founder of NWA Pride Peddlers; and KC Cross, a mental health and performance clinician at the University of Arkansas. 

Hildreth said that Cameron has been instrumental in continuing to apply pressure on the sport and industry of cycling to stay involved in the conversation.

“Based on where our community is, and Molly’s involvement, we really wanted to bring this back to the forefront,” she said. “The issues are not just facing Arkansas but many other states and communities. It’s easy when it doesn’t impact you to forget that a problem exists. We are continuing to remind people that this is impacting their neighbors, other people, their families, people they may know and don’t realize it.”

While the effects of anti-trans legislation have implications that spread far beyond bikes and even sport, many believe that Arkansas’ massive claim on cycling comes with a responsibility to speak up on behalf of those affected.

Cross, the university mental health clinician, believes that the as long as stakeholders in Arkansas continue to tout the state as a ‘capital’ of cycling, encouraging tourism and luring event promoters, then they must also use the platform for good.

“If we’re gonna do it [races], we need to try and influence the cycling community,” Cross said. “I truly don’t think that people in northwest Arkansas are for any of it or are transphobic, but the silence speaks heavily. If you allow these races to come in let’s not just be like, ‘we’re here for bikes and we’re here for racing,’ let’s use this as an opportunity to push for a more positive and accepting and loving agenda.”

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