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Will suspicion of "gender fraud" continue to haunt LGBT Olympians?

(Editor's note: The Rev. Irene Monroe's commentaries usually appear on SDGLN's Commentary Page, but is moving this one to the news pagers because of the high interest in the London 2012 Olympics.)

The 2012 London Summer Olympics begins July 27th.

While we all know that homophobia in sports is the other "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, 21 LGBTQ athletes, two coaches and two gay paralympians will compete for the gold. Three LGBTQ Olympians will represent the U.S. -- Seimone Augustus (basketball), Megan Rapinoe (soccer) and Lisa Raymond (doubles tennis).

Lesbian U.S. wrestler Stephany Lee qualified for London but was kicked off the team after testing positive for marijuana. And with women's softball no longer an Olympic sport, the number of out lesbians is lower.

Of the 12,602 Olympians in this year's games, less than 10% (126) are openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ). But London's numbers are twice those of Beijing’s in 2008.

Being an LGBTQ Olympian doesn’t elicit as much homophobic shock and awe as it did when four-time American Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis competed in the 1980s. But homophobia finds a way to surface, and now a days its not so much about an athlete's sexual orientation as it is now more about suspecting that a LGBTQ athlete is perpetrating "gender fraud."

Will these London games have their "gender fraud" squad trolling the stadium looking for impostors?

The Beijing Olympics did.

In 2008, Time/i> magazine listed 100 Olympic athletes to watch out for. Dara Torres, nine times Olympic medalist, was one of them. At 41, Torres was swimming faster then than in her 20s, revealing a more muscular and tone physique. While the question of steroid use could be asked, questions concerning her gender and sexual orientation should not.

The Beijing Olympic organizers devised a “gender-determination laboratory” for “suspected” athletes like Torres, to catch “gender frauds,” men masquerading as women.

Their experts at Peking Union Medical College Hospital evaluated each ”suspected” female for “gender verification” based on blood samples to test their genes, hormones, chromosomes and, first and foremost, their external appearance. According to these experts, Torres, with her washboard abs, on appearance alone, should fail.

And while we know reducing female athletes to their sex chromosomes is absurd, America has a different test to verify the authenticity of its “gender frauds” -- culture markers of beauty and femininity. And Torres, on appearance alone, failed.

The question of women’s physiques has always suggested a norm of beauty and femininity that “supposedly” many female athletes don’t meet. And their image as strong women has always created fear about a deluge of lesbians, intersexuals and transwomen titling the level playing field in our favor from “real” women.

With the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 prohibiting discrimination based on gender in education programs and activities receiving federal funding, women’s participation in high school and collegiate sports increased. But with women’s increased participation in sports, the damaging stereotype of the lesbian athlete became prominent as a way to police unfeminine behavior. And many women who chose to participate in sports often went to great lengths to display traditional heterosexual cultural markers through their clothing, hairstyles and mannerisms.

LGBTQ athletes must constantly monitor how they are being perceived by teammates, coaches, endorsers and the media in order to avoid suspicion. They are expected to maintain a public silence and decorum so that their identity does not tarnish the rest of the team.

For example, tennis great Martina Navratilova, who is a lesbian, was publicly taunted for not bringing femininity and beauty to her game. Her muscular physique and supposedly masculine appearance killed not only sponsor endorsements but also attempted to kill her spirit in playing the game.

“As a professional tennis player, when I came out, my focus wasn’t on things like losing endorsements or handling the press or even sacrificing personal privacy. The biggest thing on my mind was being true to myself: I realized that I couldn’t go on being a champion on the court if I was leaving half of myself off the court,” Navratilova wrote in the upcoming book “Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing The Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America,” to be out in September.

The question of who’s a “real” female and who isn’t will persist as long as lesbian-baiting continues to be part and parcel of the world of sports.

For example, Olympic basketball player Lisa Leslie was perceived to be a “girly-girly;” therefore, not a lesbian, but certainly a weak and non-aggressive player. Tennis phenoms the Williams sisters are aggressive players but too muscular, especially Serena, to be seen as feminine.

Sports programs are a particular challenge when attempting to make schools, playgrounds and locker rooms safe of our LGBTQ children. And as long as young women will be stigmatized as lesbian it will control women’s participation.

But sports can also provide innumerable opportunities to teach valuable life lessons and can be a powerful influence in addressing myriad social issues. Eliminating LGBTQ-baiting can be one of them.

Hopefully, the London Olympics will model an example of it.

The Rev. Irene Monroe is a syndicated religion columnist who appears in SDGLN, The Huffington Post and other media. She was chosen in October 2009 by MSNBC as one of "10 black women you should know." Monroe has been profiled in O, The Oprah Magazine and in the Gay Pride episode of “In the Life" TV, a segment that was nominated for an educational Emmy. Several times she has received the Harvard University certificate of distinction in teaching. She is in the film, "For the Bible Tells Me So," and is profiled in "CRISIS: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America." Visit her website here.

All Out petition seeks to end sex-verification policy

With the 2012 Summer Olympics set to open this Friday, the International Olympic Committee’s new gender-verification policies threaten to undermine the integrity of the Games and the dignity of thousands of female athletes competing in them from around the world by subjecting them to invasive sex verification procedures. In response, AllOut.org has launched a new campaign calling on Olympics President Jacques Rogge to end the invasive policy of gender testing before the Games begin on Friday.

The new rules listed on the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) website are in regard to athletes suspected of excessive, natural production of hormones like testosterone. The new rule says women with levels of testosterone naturally equal to that of a man will be barred from competing with other women. Notably, the IOC stopped short of specifying what a normal level of hormones would be, leaving the interpretation up to a panel of three experts. The panel would be empowered to disqualify female athletes from the London 2012 Games.

“Biology and humans are much more diverse than we would ever guess - what makes someone a man or a woman can't be identified in a single test or using a single measurement,” said Andre Banks, director of AllOut.org. “The new rule is degrading and humiliating to athletes who’ve worked for years and overcome tremendous obstacles in order to give everything for their sport and country. We don't ban people from becoming basketball players for being taller than average, or weightlifters for being stronger than average. Athletes are punished for cheating - and the International Olympic Committee already has a battery of tests to maintain the integrity of the Olympic Games.”

The new rules come after in 2009 Caster Semenya, a South African runner was forced to undergo 11 months of invasion gender testing after she was deemed too fast and too muscular to be a real woman. “The Committee already has strict standards and a battery of tests to identify cheaters - this rule is something different. The IOC forces doctors to act as ‘gender police,’ and if they don’t they could face sanctions. It's an invasion of privacy, it violates medical ethics, and it breeds an environment where if women are too good, they are suspected of cheating. That is the opposite of the Olympic Spirt,” explained Banks.

READ THE IOC’s NEW RULES HERE.