When bullied students reach out to Kye Allums, there’s a good chance he’ll travel to their school and address their class.
The 24-year-old was the first openly transgender Division 1 athlete and played guard on the women’s basketball team while attending George Washington University—though he lives his life as a man now and was openly trans then.
Allums experienced bullying himself for not being a “normal” girl, including having food knocked out of his hands while eating lunch.
Allums now regularly addresses K–12 classes, colleges, and corporations about acceptance, transgender inclusion, and seeking understanding.
The full-time public speaker also sits down with bullies and their victims to help them understand one another and put an end to the harassment. Allums once received an email from a student thanking him for helping him to realize the impact his actions had on a student he was bullying.
“That was one of the best days of my life,” Allums told TakePart.
“Nobody deserves to be hurt just because you don’t understand them,” said Allums.
Growing up in St. Paul, Minn., as a closeted teenage girl, Allums wanted only to be like everybody else. He stood up for himself in high school and owned the unshakable feeling that he should have been born male. That confidence put an end to the bullying.
Allums’ feelings were further validated by supportive teammates and coaches while attending George Washington University for women’s basketball. But while he found support from his team, other trans athletes have had to fight legal battles to be treated fairly.
Tennis player Renée Richards, formerly Richard Raskind, underwent gender reassignment surgery in 1975. Richards was barred from playing as a woman in the 1976 U.S. Open when the United States Tennis Association cited a women-born-women policy. To play in the U.S. Open, Richards would have to submit to chromosomal testing. The transgender athlete sued the USTA, winning the right to play in the U.S. Open in 1977 after the New York Supreme Court ruled in her favor.
Lana Lawless, a one-handicap golfer, had sex reassignment surgery in 2005. In 2010, the Ladies Professional Golf Association pointed to a female-at-birth bylaw to bar her from competing in qualifying tournaments. Lawless sued the LPGA and dropped her lawsuit two months later only after the organization voted to eliminate the female-at-birth requirement.
In 2004, the International Olympic Committee took the first step toward formulating rules for transgender athletes. The IOC rules state that those wishing to compete against athletes not of their birth sex are required to undergo gender reassignment surgery and two years of either testosterone suppression or testosterone supplementation.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association based gender classification on government-issued documentation until 2011, when the organization went in a different direction.
The NCAA transgender policy doesn’t require sex reassignment surgeries but requires trans men who have received testosterone treatment to play for a men’s team. If a trans man receiving treatment wishes to remain on a women’s team, that team must change its status to mixed. A trans female being treated with testosterone suppression medication can keep playing on a men’s team but may not compete on a women’s team without changing their status to that of a mixed team until completing one calendar year of documented testosterone-suppression treatment. A mixed team is only eligible for men’s championships.
Allums chose to live as a man but forgo receiving testosterone to keep playing with his team. The former college athlete is now also on the board of directors of GO! Athletes, an organization dedicated to educating athletes, coaches, administrators, and fans.
When Allums isn’t speaking to schools and corporations he’s traveling and sharing the stories of people spanning the gender spectrum for storytelling platform I Am Enough.
“Gender is a feeling, and how many feelings are out there? There are an infinite amount of feelings, so there are an infinite amount of genders," he told TakePart.
The goal of Allums’ project, funded out of his own pocket during its inaugural year, is to create visibility and awareness for individuals in the LGBT community. The theme for the 2013 summer short film project was transgender transitions. Allums met with 10 trans people, five in America and five in Scotland and London, to share their stories and help them obtain transition assistance.
Allums says that he never intended to be an advocate. That may be true, but that’s exactly what has happened.
"Anyone can be an advocate: Simply stand up and speak out against injustice. Show anyone who is ignorant and unkind that it's not OK."