First transgender DI athlete opens year at U tourney

Kye Allums is a junior guard on the George Washington women’s basketball team.

George Washington’s Kye Allums plays Saturday at Williams Arena.

Simon Guerra

George Washington’s Kye Allums plays Saturday at Williams Arena.

John Hageman

The television camera followed closely as Kye Allums huddled with his team before the game at Williams Arena on Saturday. The boom microphone was not far behind, fixated on a player who would play just 15 minutes and not score a single point.

For Allums, the past few weeks have been a whirlwind of attention, and none of it has to do with his on-court performance.

Allums, a junior guard on the George Washington womenâÄôs basketball team, recently came out as the first openly transgender athlete in Division I athletics. While still biologically female, Allums wants to be referred to as a male, spawning a multitude of articles and interview requests.

Allums was known as Kay-Kay during a star career at Centennial High School in Circle Pines, north of Minneapolis. Two weeks ago, the Minnesota native announced he was changing his first name to Kye to reflect his desire to be referred to as a male.

“I didnâÄôt choose to be born in this body and feel the way I do,” Allums said in a statement. “I decided to transition, that is change my name and pronouns, because it bothered me to hide who I am, and I am trying to help myself and others to be who they are.”

Because Allums isnâÄôt taking hormones and hasnâÄôt undergone surgery âÄî he plans to wait until after graduation âÄî he is still eligible to play for the womenâÄôs basketball team. AllumsâÄô first womenâÄôs game as a “he” came Saturday at Williams Arena in the Best Buy Classic.

Police at the tournament were made aware of the possibility for demonstrations outside, but the games came and went quietly âÄî no protests or rallies, no ovations or jeers, no media frenzies.

The only things out of the ordinary were cameras from ESPNâÄôs “Outside the Lines” zeroing in on Allums and a firm postgame invitation from a George Washington spokesman for “game-related questions” for head coach Mike Bozeman. Allums wasnâÄôt personally made available to media.

Reaction to AllumsâÄô decision has been generally positive. Bozeman and the university announced full support of the move, and the abundant media coverage has focused mostly on AllumsâÄô courage and his teammatesâÄô acceptance.

While there have been the derisive internet comments common to issues involving gender and sexuality, more resistance has focused on why Allums would identify as a male and continue playing womenâÄôs basketball.

Among the comments on the article announcing AllumsâÄô switch: “IâÄôve got no ill will towards Allums, but it seems silly to call her a âÄòheâÄô before she gets the surgery.”

“I donâÄôt think that he or she should play womenâÄôs sports.”

“How can she be transgendered without surgery?” another asked.

“Transgender” is an umbrella term popularized over the past three decades that encompasses people who, for one reason or another, donâÄôt identify with the gender they were born with or the one they were assigned at birth. It doesnâÄôt necessarily mean the person has had surgery or taken hormones. Anne Phibbs, director of the GLBTA program at the University of Minnesota, noted how people without gender-identification issues often struggle to relate to situations like AllumsâÄô.

“I donâÄôt know why someone climbs Mount Everest honestly, itâÄôs something I never would do,” Phibbs said. “But I can respect it as something that someone would feel that they needed to do, in terms of being who they were.

“I think those of us who are not transgender have to trust that this is what he needs to be in order to be kind of a complete, whole human being.”

Transgender issues in athletics

Allums is believed to be the first transgender athlete in Division I history but not the first in collegiate athletics.

Keelin Godsey, a national-champion hammer thrower at Division III Bates College, received some attention in 2006 when, like Allums, Godsey requested to be referred to as “he” and changed his name from Kelly to Keelin.

Some other instances of transgender athletes have caused eligibility issues.

Perhaps the most well-known gender identity case is that of South African runner Caster Semenya, who won gold at the 2009 World Championships. The International Association of Athletic Federations asked her to undergo gender testing to prove she wasnâÄôt a male, setting off international controversy.

Some of her competitors complained Semenya had an advantage because of a perceived level of masculinity and suspected she had a “sexual development disorder” in which a person develops characteristics of both genders. But the results were never released, and she was cleared to participate as a woman in July.

A report published last month, “On the Team: Equal Opportunity for Transgender Student Athletes,” recommends that transgender athletes should undergo at least a year of hormone treatment before being allowed to play as their transitioned gender.

The report, co-sponsored by the National Center of Lesbian Rights and the WomenâÄôs Sports Foundation, bases recommendations on research that any advantages gained from a male-to-female transition would be gone after a year of treatment.

Allums, who is still biologically female and hasnâÄôt undergone any procedures, doesnâÄôt violate any eligibility rules âÄî but nonetheless has captured the attention of many.

The reason for such intrigue might lie in the nature of sports.

Sports, unlike the classroom, the workplace or the home, are largely gender-segregated. And when someone blurs that boundary itâÄôs bound to cause a stir, Phibbs said. She said transgender people have been around for quite some time, but itâÄôs not surprising that sports are one of the last places to reflect that reality.

Allums and others exhibit the emerging gray areas of gender identity in an arena that defines gender in black and white terms.

“One reason that sports is slow to come around is because sports is so segregated, so divided by sex,” Phibbs said. “WeâÄôve thought, in sports, there are menâÄôs teams and womenâÄôs teams. But I think some of those ideas are getting challenged.”

Phibbs said she holds an informative session with every first-year athlete at the University to discuss GLBTA issues but is sometimes met with snickers and laughter. Thirty years after coming out as a lesbian, she still finds it difficult to face judgment.

But because of the mostly positive national attention âÄî national columnist Kevin Blackistone compared AllumsâÄô impact on the transgender community to that of sit-ins during the civil rights movement âÄî and the way the George Washington program has handled the situation, Phibbs predicted more transgender athletes will feel comfortable coming out.

“Think about all the other transgender athletes out there who are thinking, âÄòOh, I could never do this,âÄô” Phibbs said. “Now they see this person nationally with a player on one side of them and their coach on the other. And theyâÄôre like, âÄòWow the world didnâÄôt blow up, this person is still able to play basketball.âÄô”

Welcome home

Jill Becken, who coached Allums for two years and had two daughters play alongside him at Centennial, reminisced about times Allums would hang out with his teammates, laughing and watching movies at each otherâÄôs houses.

Allums was openly lesbian in high school, but Becken felt that was a private matter, and the team didnâÄôt explicitly talk about it. In BeckenâÄôs 17 years of coaching experience, players who come out as lesbians do so once their playing days are over. But AllumsâÄô announcements of his homosexuality in high school and of being transgender in college reflect his character, Becken said.

“Kye has always been good at advocating for himself but always considerate of others also,” Becken said. “He does what he knows in his heart, what he thinks in his heart is the right thing to do, and thatâÄôs what heâÄôs going by.”

AllumsâÄô former teammates have also supported his decision. Moriah Miller, who was a junior at Centennial when Allums was a senior, said the two werenâÄôt best friends, but playing alongside him was a fun experience.

“I didnâÄôt think of him any differently from my other teammates, and what he is choosing to do now is what he feels is best for him,” Miller said in an e-mail.

The Centennial womenâÄôs basketball team has a rich tradition âÄî it has gone to the state tournament four times since 2003 âÄî and Allums has a handful of teammates playing on other Division I teams. Becken said Allums has always been popular in the community, and his announcement did nothing to change that.

“He was really well-liked by the staff, the community, the kids âĦ so people will support him,” Becken said.

Becken said Friday she planned to attend the Best Buy Classic over the weekend in support of Allums as well as another former Centennial player on George Washington, Megan Nipe.

Although she hadnâÄôt talked to Allums since the announcement and the flurry of media coverage, Becken said if she got the opportunity, she would make sure to do one thing.

“I would give Kye a hug,” Becken said. “IâÄôm just looking forward to seeing him play basketball.”