Trailblazer CeCé Telfer Knows Trans Girls Belong in Sports

· Updated on October 4, 2023

It’s been almost two years since trans runner CeCé Telfer was deemed ineligible to compete in the women’s 400m hurdles category at the US Olympic trial. Telfer, who has made a name for herself as a talented Jamaican American track and field star, wants the world to know that while she’s still searching for a way to compete, more attention must be paid to the struggles that Black trans women face in athletics. 

For Telfer, the last few months have been filled with a major press run regarding the discrimination she’s faced as a Black trans athlete. Part of making her story known is about helping the masses understand the blatant attacks that Black trans women face in sports. While a recent op-ed in CNN highlights the experiences she has had so far, Telfer’s episode of the Fuse special Like a Girl gives a more personal account of what Telfer has had to endure. 

INTO sat down with Telfer to discuss her call to action, all the backlash that trans people are facing both in and out of sports, and how we can all help her make her dreams come true. 

INTO: How are people responding to your op-ed and show? 

CECÉ TELFER: It’s definitely more positive than negative. With the negative stuff, a lot of the comments about me needing to pick up another sport. Like picking up “pool” or something. On the other hand, there’s been a ton of positive feedback from my friends on Instagram, on Facebook, and loved ones. It feels good to feel like people truly hear me and see me. 

In 2020, you spoke openly about transgender inclusion in the NCAA. How have your thoughts changed or evolved since then, and what might people want to keep in mind? 

My thoughts haven’t really changed. I felt as though trans people should be included in all areas of life including sports, and I still mean that today. Because sports gave me safety: It’s just seen as a safe haven and a way for people—kids, students—to use it as an outlet. It’s seen as an outlet that saves lives in the sense that, you know, for kids who grew up in the ghetto like me, it’s a great way to get out of those situations. To get scholarships, to go to school, to become something in life. Now that there is a ban on everything, that’s being taken away. It’s really about fairness, inclusion, and equality for all people. We deserve to play sports, to be involved in all areas of life and to be our authentic selves just like everybody else.

Why has it been so important for you to keep speaking out about what’s happening to you in relation to your career? 

It’s very important because it’s the one thing that saved me, you know? I did dance but that didn’t stick. Sports gave me a space to feel like I could be me. Because when you’re at practice, you’re true. You have to be a hundred percent checked in. And I give what I’m doing a hundred percent, especially when it comes to athletics, because I want to see where my full potential could go and what I can achieve when I give it my all. Sports provided me with a space to not only like my body, but also to give more than 100% on something. Sports really helps so many trans people feel whole and that’s the thing we really need to be talking about. 

What are your thoughts on the regulation changes and what can people do in the wake of it to be better support systems for trans athletes? 

It’s completely, blatantly discriminatory. These regulations are making it worse for transgender people, honestly. The thing that people miss is how it’s gonna trickle down to everybody else. So not only is this blatant discrimination, it’s also enabling others—those who cannot understand who are and how we exist in societies—to target us. It enables them to think that these things are okay, and like it’s okay for us to be hunted and banned. 

It’s turning everything that we’ve worked for backwards, period. So we’re never gonna move forward unless we’ve acknowledged that we’re people, we’re human beings, and we are not going to go away with a ban. 

In terms of what I want people to do: I want other athletes to use their platforms, to stand up for what is right, and to advocate for us. Put those organizations on blast, because at the end of the day when top-ranking elite athletes and Olympians are speaking out on the issue, people are going to have to listen. So I would love for those athletes to use their platform to speak up for us and to fight for us, because that’s really where some of the change can happen. Sports have the ability to change the narrative, change the conversation and really change hearts and minds. But our cis counterparts must get involved because their voices are the ones that the majority of society wants to hear

It’s important because we deserve to play. We deserve to be able to go after our goals as athletes, and it’s important I speak up right now because I know no one else will. I know that our community, we are trying—but we aren’t the ones that people often want to hear. They want to hear our cis counterparts, they want to hear our cis Olympians and the elite athletes who actually have the platform to make a difference.

I want folks to speak louder and amplify not only my voice, but other people’s voices who are going through the same struggles. It’s important that kids coming up in the generation behind, and even currently, see that they can achieve the highest level of their sport or anything that they want to do in life. It’s important to see that their dreams can come true too, not just certain people’s dreams.

We deserve to be able to go after our goals as athletes, and it’s important I speak up right now because I know no one else will.

CeCé Telfer

I’m always gonna fight for that. I’m always gonna be myself, because this is my dream: to be an Olympian. They’re not gonna dim my light and they’re not gonna take that away from me. You’re gonna have to kill me first, period. 

What advice would you give to other trans folks going after their dreams and being met with hurdles? 

Go for your dreams and go after them fiercely. And don’t ever stop, don’t let anybody ever divert your focus or take that away.  Stay focused on it and don’t let anything or anyone get in the way of it. And once you achieve that dream and that goal, it’s gonna be like such a breath of fresh air. I mean, I’m still working on it. I had a taste, and though I still don’t know what it feels like to fully get to that point, I am close. I can taste it, and when you can taste it, that means it’s right there. So my advice would be to remember that nobody can do it for you, and no one can take it from you. 

Also, remember that you’re not alone. No matter what, no matter how alone it feels, you are in the game. You are never alone. And always look for those resources and love, because that’s the difference between you feeling alone and you feeling like you can conquer the world because you have a support system and a team behind you.♦

Like a Girl is available to watch on Fuse and Fuse+.

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