EDMONTON — Businessman Pete Howell was preparing to coach another season of community softball when his stepdaughter invited a transgender friend to join her on the McLeod Royals.
Sports officials told him the 15-year-old had to provide medical proof of gender reassignment before she would be allowed on the Edmonton girls team.
Howell was shocked.
"I have three kids I signed up in the same league and they weren't singled out. They weren't asked questions like that," he said. "Technically not all kids can play — as much as they talk about it — without being put to the side and having to jump through a bunch of hoops.
"We're talking community level here, not the Olympics."
Howell complained about the rule and said other parents also voiced concerns. During the controversy, the girl decided she no longer wanted to join the team.
Then Howell quit as coach.
"I just said, 'You know what? Good luck, I don't want to be part of this.'"
Hugh Mitchener, chief executive officer with Softball Canada in Ottawa, said it wasn't until the Edmonton coach cried foul that the organization learned its policy on transgender players was outdated and illegal. The federal government added gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights Code last year.
"I checked with our lawyer and he said, 'Yep. It's no longer compliant. You need to change it,'" said Mitchener.
"So that's what we quickly are doing."
A draft of the new policy, which has yet to be approved by a board of directors, allows players to join the team they self-identify with, he said.
Mitchener said some provincial softball groups which had adopted the old national policy, including Softball Alberta, are being notified that a new rule will be ready in time for the upcoming season.
"I regret that it's inconvenienced anybody," Mitchener said. "I expect that this will make it a lot more comfortable for transgender players to compete in softball."
A spokesperson with Softball Alberta could not be reached for comment.
Tom Clooney, president of the Edmonton Youth Softball Association, said his group trusted national and provincial softball groups to stay on top of policies and the law.
The Edmonton association is talking with lawyers and LGBTQ community associations to craft a new transgender policy that ensures "all participants feel safe, accepted and have fun," he said.
Chris Purdy, The Canadian Press