Martha Gumprich (left inset) and Nicola Hare (right inset) from Kootenays-based health and community group, Trans Connect, will host two discussions to ask trans and non-binary youth what changes would help make sport more welcoming. Photo: Freepik


MSc candidate wins grant to help affirm trans and non-binary youth participation in sport

March 27, 2023

by Sharon Mah

The Faculty of Health Sciences is profiling FHS students whose projects received funding from the 2022 SFU Student-Community Engaged Competition. Martha’s story is the first of a three-part series.

Faculty of Health Sciences Master of Science candidate, Martha Gumprich, has won a $2,000 grant in the 2022 SFU Student-Community Engagement Competition. They will be using the funds to collaborate with a Kootenays-based health and community program, Trans Connect, to engage trans and non-binary youth in discussions about changes that could be made to make sport more welcoming.

Gumprich’s project, “Identifying strategies to affirm non-binary and trans youth in sport in the Kootenays,” will see them co-facilitating two sessions – alongside Nicola Hare of Trans Connect – for youth ages 15 to 18 in Nelson, BC and Castlegar, BC. The groups will be able to share their thoughts on topics such as: participation in – or avoidance of – organized team sport; potential and current barriers to participation; threats to participants’ safety in sport settings; feeling the need to change one’s gender expression; and, abuse in sport settings. This project will enable participants to identify priorities to improve safety for trans and non-binary youth in sport.

“Existing research suggests that sport is a dynamic environment that can be joyous for many but traumatizing for sexual and gender minorities,” says Gumprich. “Non-binary people in Canada are asking for policies to protect them in sport. While policies have been created to help include and protect transgender participants, non-binary people have been continuously left out. Our project addresses this gap.”

Gumprich’s passion for this project is rooted in evidence produced by the investigations for their MSc thesis. In a national survey conducted by the UnACoRN (Understanding Affirming Communities, Relationships, and Networks) Study research group, several thousand participants self-reported information about their experiences of having their sexual and gender identities supported or threatened in various settings. Gumprich analyzed a subset of the UnACoRN data to examine the experiences of non-binary youth in organized team sports in Canada, an area of investigation for which there is little to no research.  

“I wanted to get [my thesis data] results back out into the community as soon as possible to start making the change that is so desperately needed in sport,” they said. “[G]rass roots organizations are left to their own devices and can choose whether they want to adopt inclusive and protective policies. We hope that by holding these youth group sessions, we can hear what youth want to see changed in sport right now and relay this to schools and policy makers.”

Hare and Gumprich will anonymize the feedback they receive through these community-engagements and create two products:

  • a two-page report for schools and sports organizations to help make their teams and physical education classes a safer place for all genders; and,
  • a series of infographics to be shared on social media, showcasing the data and what students want to see as a solution.

When asked how they planned to disseminate the report, Gumprich replied the intention is to make the report relevant to schools and organizations nationally as well as locally. “I suspect that many issues youth are facing in rural areas are no different than those in urban settings. A resource like ours does not exist [anywhere in Canada], and I expect that many suggestions will be applicable to all geographical settings.”

While this collaboration will create needed resources for local youth, Hare also views this project as an opportunity to develop better policies and best practices around trans and non-binary inclusion in sport. “I’ve heard from [local] youth in their late teens/early 20s that they stopped involvement in sport due to the perception that their gender identity wasn’t welcome, and it wasn’t safe for them to continue participation while in gender transition,” she said. “I’ve also heard from non-binary youth in a Nelson area high school about gendered PE classes and a campaign some of them took on to push administration to restructure un-gendered cohort PE classes.” Prior to planning this project, Hare was contacted by the Selkirk College Athletics department who were seeking gender diversity and safe spaces training. “There’s a need and desire for this information, and we’re pleased to be able to work with [Gumprich] to make this happen.”

Gumprich hopes that the resources generated from this project, along with other advocacy-based initiatives, will help shift sport culture so that 2S/LGBTQ+ people will not feel so othered and excluded from sport. “Inclusion in settings like sport hold such potential for improving one’s health, as it can positively impact a participant’s mental and physical health, and create a social network of friends and peers.”