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Non-binary skateboarder makes Olympics history – and is misgendered while doing it

Vic Parsons July 27, 2021
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Alana Smith competing in the Women's Street Prelims Heat 3 at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Alana Smith of Team United States at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on July 26, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Skateboarder Alana Smith made history as the first openly non-binary athlete to compete for Team USA at the Olympics – but their landmark moment was marred by misgendering from commentators.

Smith competed in the women’s skateboarding street event on Sunday (25 July) and even had their pronouns etched onto their skateboard.

But sports commentators – including Todd Harris and Paul Zitzer for NBC Sports in the US, and Marc Churchill and Ed Leigh for the BBC in the UK – referred to Smith with the wrong pronouns throughout, much to the disappointment of LGBT+ fans.

Britni de la Cretaz, a US-based trans journalist, wrote on Twitter that the sports commentators misgendering Smith was “journalistic malpractice”.

“No one should have to be misgendered on an international stage like this,” Britni wrote. “Sports doesn’t know what to do with non-binary athletes.

“Shoutout to Alana Smith, the first openly non-binary athlete to represent the U.S. in an Olympic Games.”

In the UK, Olympics fans noted that the BBC commentary kept misgendering Smith even when other countries commentators had corrected themselves.

“The Americans were having trouble at first but seem to have gotten it together,” one Twitter fan wrote.

“BBC still haven’t,” replied another.

Alana Smith said ‘gender doesn’t matter’

Smith’s profile on the Olympics website notes: “They are non-binary and use the pronouns ‘they/them'”, and uses the correct pronouns for them throughout their profile. However, at the top of that page, Smith’s gender is listed as “female”.

Smith previously told USA Skateboarding: “I don’t want to be known as a good female skateboarder. I just want to be known as a good skater, someone that made a difference. Gender shouldn’t matter.”

Stonewall, Europe’s largest LGBT+ charity, posted that Smith had been “repeatedly misgendered by journalists” and called for “swift corrections”.

“All athletes deserve to be respected and celebrated as part of the games,” Stonewall wrote.

As fans continued to point out the mistakes made by BBC commentators Marc Churchill and Ed Leigh when it came to Smith’s pronouns, their colleague, BBC Sports reporter Tim Warwood, weighed in.

“It wasn’t myself commentating,” Tim wrote on Twitter. “I’m sure the boys would of course apologise to Alana.”

He added: “I hadn’t seen anything regarding gender and I’m 100 per cent sure they hadn’t either. Hence the mistake.”

Alana Smith competed in the preliminary rounds on Sunday (25 July) but did not qualify for the finals.

The BBC has been contacted for comment.

Related topics: BBC, non-binary, olympics

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