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A Transgender Volleyball Star Stirs ‘Unfounded’ Criticism In Brazil

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Tifanny Abreu was leading her team in a key volleyball match last month when the opposing coach called her a man.

Abreu is the first transgender volleyball player to compete on a professional women’s team in Brazil, and the comment was criticized widely in LGBTQ circles after it was aired on TV. But it also inspired critics of Abreu, including former volleyball star Ana Paula, to rush to the defense of coach Bernardo Rezende, who is better known as “Bernardinho,” or “little Bernard.”

“There’s a noisy minority that wants to force us to accept at all costs that feelings are more important than facts and biology,” Paula wrote on Twitter. “They are not.”

Bernardinho apologized, but his remark about the 34-year-old wing spiker rekindled a debate in Brazil about trans women and whether they should be allowed to compete professionally on women’s teams.

Scientists and international sports organizations have already weighed in on the matter. A 2015 study, for example, showed that trans women who underwent treatment to lower testosterone levels did not perform better in athletic competitions against other women than they did when they were in men’s sports competitions.

But the renewed focus on Abreu has fueled a debate in Brazil that experts say is unwarranted and based on fears and prejudice.

“It’s a misconception that her muscular strength or that of any other trans woman in the sport is different,” Alexandre Saadeh, the coordinator of São Paulo’s Transdisciplinary Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Clinic, told HuffPost Brazil. “Biological and hormonal criticism is unfounded.”

The only thing that might distinguish Abreu from other women on the court, Saadeh said, is the distinct style of training she received in the men’s league before transitioning at the age of 29.

In his apology, Bernardinho said he was referring to Abreu’s technique when he called her a man.

“I apologize to everyone,” he said. “It was definitely not my intention to offend her. I was referring to the technical movement and physical control she has, which is common to male players.”

Abreu accepted the coach’s apology and, in an interview with Globo Sport, said she believed Bernardinho was referring to her technical movements, including a distinct approach to spiking more common among men’s teams.

“She started playing volleyball in the men’s league, so she has a cellular memory and a game perception from the time she had not made that transition yet,” Saadeh said. “But today, she has female hormonal patterns. This may have reduced her muscle base. She loses strength, but she is technical and tall. That doesn’t chang
Abreu took a break from professional volleyball in Europe while she was transitioning and resumed playing at age 31, joining Italy’s second league. Back in Brazil and physically renewed, she was hired as a wing spiker by the Sesi-Bauru team in 2017.

She complies with the strict requirements enforced by the International Olympic Committee and the International Volleyball Federation.

The IOC allows trans men to participate in competitions without restrictions but requires trans women to meet certain criteria, including a testosterone level below 10 nanomoles per liter of blood. That’s the lower end of what’s considered normal in men. Players can be screened for testosterone levels in the 12 months prior to the first game and throughout the period of competition. Sex reassignment surgery, which was once required to compete, is no longer necessary.

The testosterone benchmark comes from an international standard that shows that women typically have 0.21 to 2.98 nanomoles of testosterone per liter of blood. In her blood tests, Abreu usually shows 0.2 nanomole per liter of testosterone, comfortably meeting the IOC requirements.

In the sexist and violent culture in which we live, if someone that was biologically born a man forsakes that masculine role in society by adopting a feminine role, this is viewed as frightening, incomprehensible. We still have a long way of acceptance to go.Natália Pereira Travasso, a psychoanalyst, author and advocate for LGBTQ rights

Abreu is considered a force on the courts. She holds the record for most points scored in a single match in Brazil and averaged the most points per game in the 2017 Superliga.

A recent survey by Brazilian website UOL Sports, however, pointed out that Abreu scores less and her performance fluctuates more than other players. In the game against Bernardinho’s team, for example, she was the top scorer with 27 points. But in the next match, she scored only eight. Her overall performance this season has declined from her peak in 2017 and 2018.

In an interview with UOL Sports last year, Abreu said she gets physically exhausted faster and has a more time-consuming recovery compared with other players.

“My hormone levels are so heavy that it ends up affecting my health,” she said. “Sometimes I think I would like to play for five or six more years, but I might not be able to do so.”

Experts note that the recent criticism directed at Abreu is not only scientifically unfounded, but it also reinforces prejudice and exclusion.

“This case reveals a lot about society’s conception of what women and men can and cannot do in sports, whether they are transgender or cisgender, and the very experience of transphobia,” said Jaqueline Gomes de Jesus, a Ph.D. in social psychology and a professor at the Federal Institute of Rio de Janeiro.

Natália Pereira Travassos, a psychoanalyst, author and advocate for LGBTQ rights, said Abreu’s critics were “reducing an individual to a biological issue,” which she said was a form of violence.

“In the sexist and violent culture in which we live, if someone that was biologically born a man forsakes that masculine role in society by adopting a feminine role, this is viewed as frightening, incomprehensible,” Travassos said. “We still have a long way of acceptance to go.”

Gomes de Jesus said the field of high-performance sports needs to address not only the rights of trans players to compete, but also their rights to dignity.

“When someone goes so far as to question an international rule, this only confirms the prejudice,” she said. “All criticism seems to be justified by the fact that [Abreu] is a trans woman. No one questions the performance of other players who have a similar muscle tone. This reinforces transphobia and exclusion.”

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Asian Voices

NFL Champion Sends Message To Fellow Asian American Football Star Taylor Rapp

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Asian American NFL prospect Taylor Rapp received a message from two-time Super Bowl champion Hines Ward, who’s also of Asian descent. 

Ward, who dealt with his share of racism during his time in the NFL, had some uplifting words for Rapp, who’s awaiting Thursday’s draft, captured in a promo video. 

“I know you’ve heard it before: ’Asians can’t play football,’” Ward says in the video. “I still remember the first time I heard it. But I learned something too. those words can be a gift. You can feed off that energy. Turn that hate into wins.”

He concludes: “So Asians can’t play football, huh? I’d say we’re pretty darn good.”
Asians make up less than 2 percent of the players in the NFL. While Ward was an extremely successful player in the league, becoming Super Bowl MVP back in 2003, he found himself the target of bigotry throughout his career. Following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Ward spoke out against the deluge of racist remarks and jokes made toward Japan and reflected on his own experiences as an Asian.

“I’ve been dealing with this my whole life. I still remember being called the Jackie Chan of football,” he told ESPN.

Regardless, Ward has emerged a champion for Asian Americans. In 2010, the former NFL player was sworn into the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, a group appointed by the president to help improve and increase access to opportunities for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. 

Rapp himself has been transparent about the struggles he’s faced as an Asian American football player with NFL ambitions. He revealed to NFL.com that growing up as one of the rare Asian faces on the field, he was often taunted. He subsequently wrestled with his own identity. 

“They make fun of how you look ― your eyes, the widened, slanted eyes. There were a few instances where I was called the Ch-word. It was offensive to me. It made me embarrassed of who I was,” he said. “That’s why I never embraced it growing up. I was different than everyone else, and I didn’t want to be.” 

Since then, Rapp has grown to be proud of his heritage, displaying several conspicuous Chinese tattoos. And with guidance from fellow players who could relate to Rapp’s struggle, as well as the encouragement of Asians on social media who look up to the player, Rapp is now looking to be a role model for others. 

“To me, it’s about gaining a platform that will help inspire a generation of Chinese and Asian American kids,” he told NFL.com. “I don’t want to be just an answer to a trivia question; I want to inspire and have a real impact.”

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COMMUNITIES

Leader Of Anti-Immigrant Militia Group Attacked In Jail, Lawyer Says

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SUNLAND PARK, N.M., April 24 (Reuters) ― The leader of an armed group that spent the past two months detaining migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, drawing condemnation from civil liberties advocates, has been hospitalized after he was attacked in jail, his attorney said.

Larry Hopkins, 69, was in a hospital with broken ribs after being attacked on Tuesday at the Dona Ana County Detention Center in Las Cruces in southern New Mexico, attorney Kelly O’Connell said.

A spokeswoman for the Dona Ana County center did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The attack occurred the same day Hopkins’ United Constitutional Patriots (UCP) group abandoned its border camp near Sunland Park, New Mexico, where they had spent two months detaining thousands of illegal migrants.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) last week accused Hopkins’ group of being a fascist, white nationalist militia illegally detaining and kidnapping Central American families seeking asylum.

O’Connell said he had spoken with Hopkins by phone.

“This guy is very high-profile. So, if he gets put into jail and is immediately attacked after his first hearing just a few days after being put in there, can Dona Ana County correctional protect high-profile defendants?” O’Connell asked.

O’Connell said he did not know why Hopkins had been targeted. But a spokesman for his UCP paramilitary group said he believed it was because of his activity at the border.

“They put him in a pod cell with a group of people and they had just got done watching the article about the ACLU writing about him being racist, and as a result of that he was attacked,” UCP spokesman Jim Benvie said in a video posted online.

New Mexico’s Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday said the UCP’s activities had to stop, and the FBI arrested Hopkins the next day on gun charges based on a 2017 search of his home.

Benvie said the UCP was moving to another campsite in a couple of days and would continue to support the U.S. Border Patrol as it faced an “invasion” of migrants, most of whom it said are fraudulently seeking asylum.

“We do have a private property location on the border that we have secured,” said Benvie. “We will not be going anywhere, we will be on an area where we can continue to do what we’ve done.”

The Border Patrol has said it does not support private citizens acting as law enforcement.

(Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Scott Malone, Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

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Labour reveals plan to put £1.3bn a year back into local bus services

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Labour would spend £1.3bn a year to reverse recent cuts to local bus services as a means of boosting communities and helping the environment, the party has announced.

The scheme, which Labour said would improve services on 3,000 bus routes around the country, would be funded using revenue raised from vehicle excise duty (VED).

Jeremy Corbyn has raised the issue of poor local bus services at prime minister’s questions, arguing that cuts since 2010 have left many older and vulnerable people isolated, especially in poorer areas, and that such policies lead to greater car use.

The party has already pledged to regulate bus services by putting local services into public ownership and offering free bus travel to under-25s.

The policy was due to be formally announced by the Labour leader and the shadow transport secretary, Andy McDonald, on Thursday in Nottingham, where the Labour council runs the bus fleet.

Under a plan drawn up under the David Cameron government, from the 2020-21 financial year VED revenue will be hypothecated, meaning it is pre-allocated for certain spending rather than, as is true for most tax, added to the general pot.

The Conservative plan was to spend the hypothecated money on road building, but Labour says it would instead set up a sustainable transport fund, part of which would fund bus services.

The £1.3bn sum a year would reverse what Labour says has been a £645m annual real-terms cut to bus funding since 2010, and invest the same amount on top. Citing government figures, Labour said bus coverage in Britain was at a 30-year low, while outside London the number of passenger journeys had fallen by 10% since 2010.

Corbyn said: “Bus services have been devastated by nine years of austerity. Thousands of routes have been axed, fares have soared and passenger numbers are in freefall. Local services are a lifeline for many, particularly the elderly and those in rural areas. Cuts have had disastrous consequences for our towns and city centres and for air pollution and the environment.

“Bus networks are essential for towns and cities and for tackling rural poverty and isolation, which is why Labour is committed to creating thriving bus networks under public ownership.”

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The Conservative MP Marcus Jones, the party’s vice-chair for local government, said Labour’s plans for the VED money would mean “they would have to clobber motorists with tax hikes and slash funding for road repairs to pay for it”.

He said: “Along with their plans to put politicians in Westminster in charge of running local bus services, their pledge to slash funding for roads and their calls to increase fuel duty, this just proves they are not on the side of hardworking families who rely on their vehicles.”

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