Trans policy issues: Why are we talking about sports? is the theme of a virtual panel discussion with Katie Barnes, Chris Mosier, and Naomi Goldberg to be held on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, 4:00 - 5:00 PM ET.

Trans rights are currently being challenged at all levels of government, state and federal. This virtual event will discuss issues and policies related to trans rights and what is happening on the ground now.

The panelists will also talk about why sports have been a key issue—and why the freedom to compete is about much more than sports. Join Katie Barnes, feature writer at ESPN; Chris Mosier, Olympic athlete and founder of TransAthlete.com; and Naomi Goldberg, deputy director and LGBTQ program director at the Movement Advancement Project for this important and timely discussion.

About the speakers

Katie Barnes (they/them) is a feature writer at ESPN, covering culture, LGBTQ issues, women’s basketball, collegiate softball and women’s combat sports. Since joining ESPN, Barnes has written on a variety of topics, such as transgender athletes, racial justice and Hollywood stunt doubles. Their articles on high school transgender athletes have earned them two GLAAD Award nominations. They were also a producer on the 30 for 30 short Mack Wrestles. Barnes holds a BA in history, Russian studies and American studies from St. Olaf College, and an MS in student affairs and higher education from Miami University (OH). They were named the 2017 Journalist of the Year by The Association of LGBTQ Journalists.

Naomi Goldberg (she/her) has worked for 14 years in the LGBTQ movement as a researcher and policy expert. She’s the deputy director and LGBTQ program director at the Movement Advancement Project, which works to speed equality and opportunity for all through messaging and communications, policy analysis, and collaboration. Her team tracks LGBTQ laws and policies across the states, authors reports about key LGBTQ issues, and frequently partners with leading LGBTQ and progressive organizations to draw attention to how issues of nondiscrimination, religious exemptions, and equality impact LGBTQ people, their families, and all people in the United States. She received her MPP from the Ford School of Public Policy and is an avid Michigan sports fan.

Chris Mosier (he/him) is a trailblazing athlete, coach, and founder of TransAthlete.com. In 2020 he made history by becoming the first transgender athlete to compete in the Olympic Trials in the gender with which they identify. Prior to that, in 2015 he became the first openly trans man to make a Men's US National Team. Following the national championship race, he was instrumental in getting the International Olympic Committee policy on transgender athletes changed, and in June 2016 he became the first trans athlete to compete in a world championship race under the new rules. Chris is a six-time member of Team USA, representing the United States in the sprint triathlon and the short course and long course duathlon, a two-time Men's National Champion, and a Men's All-American. Chris is also a nationally recognized four-time Ironman triathlete, and inductee into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame. He is sponsored by Nike and has been featured in multiple global Nike campaigns. Chris has been featured in publications including ESPN The Magazine, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and more. Chris's website transathlete.com is the go-to source for information about transgender athletes in sport. Chris has written and advocated for change in policies from the high school level to national governing bodies and professional leagues. He has become one of the leading grassroots organizers against the current wave of anti-trans legislation across the United States, and when not fighting the good fight, he mentors transgender and non-binary athletes around the world in hopes that he can live by his motto of "be who you needed when you were younger."

This event is co-sponsored by the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

Virtual | Register (free) for a reminder

View full event details here.

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Mjolnir

Like many of the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe films, LGBTQ+ fans awaited the release of Thor: Love and Thunder in open anticipation of the inclusivity that both Marvel and Disney had promised. However, the fans were only setting themselves up for disappointment when the film was finally released.

Despite passionate assurances from studio heads to key actors, Thor: Love and Thunder was NOT spectacularly gay. It wasn’t even that good…

Premiere Night Promises

A bolt of lightning cuts across a rainbow on a dark and stormy night.

Lightning bold across the sky

Photo by Bill D.

Standing on the red carpet at the London Premiere of the film, director and actor Taika Waititi and fellow cast members Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson were offered up the inevitable question: “How gay is the film?

Amidst some laughter from the crowds, Waititi gestured towards Portman to respond. The actress (who plays Thor’s love interest, Jane Foster, throughout the franchise) raised the microphone to her lips and thought for a moment, before delivering a quiet yet fateful: “So gay!

Barely a moment had passed before the gathered fans went wild and Taika Waititi gave his own verdict: “Super gay!”. Tessa Thompson made no statement on the ‘gayness’ of the film, instead opting to swing her microphone around suggestively. As more cheers erupted, a second round of “super gay” slipped out of Waititi’s mouth, before he urged the fans to enjoy the film.

Thor: Love and Thunder’s LGBTQ+ Potential

Thor’s movie-goers were definitely hyped up for a gay extravaganza and they had a specific character in mind. The fan-favorite Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson, stumbled her way into the MCU during Thor’s third film, Ragnarok. The Asgardian warrior won many people over with her wit, sarcasm, and pure badassery.

After the events of Avengers: Endgame *spoilers*, Thor Odinson gives up his claim to the throne of Asgard and names Valkyrie as king in his stead. This left many fans excited to see what would become of the character, especially after certain revelations were made at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con:

“As a new king, she has to find her queen. So that’ll be her first order of business.”

With these words, Tessa Thompson threw her LGBTQ+ fans into a frenzy, with heavy expectations for the then-upcoming fourth installment of the Thor films. Indeed, in an interview with the LA Times, shortly before the film's release, Tessa Thompson was asked to comment on the sexuality of her character. She responded with several promising remarks, including “there’s a lot of folks that are righteously very hungry for that representation to exist in these movies, as am I”.

*Warning: spoilers ahead!*

So, How Gay Was Thor 4?

To put it simply: not gay at all. Not only did Valkyrie end up without a fabulous new queen, her non-heteronormative sexuality only got the barest mention (a brief line about a previous, now dead, girlfriend). Valkyrie may have made bedroom eyes at some pretty ladies before an action scene spoils the moment, but that’s about as much as we get.

The film does get some credit for introducing a trans character in a minor yet significant role. Thor returns to his people (after a brief stint as a Guardian of the Galaxy) only to find out that the daughter of one of his closest (and deceased) friends is now a boy. The issue is, whether due to personal prejudice or some alien inability to grasp the concept of being transgender, it does take Thor a frustrating few moments to come to terms with the change. And to stop deadnaming.

In fact, the only concession to the queer community was Taika Waititi’s extraterrestrial character Korg finding a husband in one of the closing scenes. This heartfelt moment was somewhat underscored by the revelation that Korg’s entire species is male, meaning he had no other choice but to be ‘gay’.

This Is Not Marvel’s First Queerbaiting Attempt

Close up of an eye reflecting an unknown scene as a rainbow crosses the image.

Photo by Harry Q.

This is, by far, not the first time that LGBTQ+ fans have been sorely disappointed by the workings of Marvel and Disney. In fact, people across many social media platforms have been chiding expectant viewers for once again falling for classic queerbaiting tactics. “Being queerbaited by the MCU is like being a golden retriever with a human who always pretends to throw the ball”, one Tumblr user declared.

Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson, was the perfect moment for the MCU to introduce its first lesbian lead. Larson’s character seemed to have an intense relationship with another woman, going so far as to help raise her child (before Larson’s Carol Danvers disappeared from Earth for 6 years). Despite leaning into several romantic tropes, the status of their relationship was never fully fleshed out. However, it was also the franchise’s first female-led superhero movie, so maybe they thought that introducing her as a lesbian would make the film too awesome.

The heavily anticipated Avengers: Endgame was also slated to introduce the MCU’s ‘first gay character'. While many fans were excited, particularly as this would be the second of Larson’s appearances on screen, the big gay build-up was a massive letdown. The film’s director Joe Russo made a cameo as a blip survivor mourning the loss of his husband. A five-second throw-away scene that had no impact on the outcome of the film. Big whoop...

Even when we did see a film with a gay lead, The Eternals, there were also ten other straight leads. At that point, it just seemed more like basic probability than an attempt at pushing LGBT+ superheroes into the spotlight.

Why Can’t Disney Let Marvel Be Gay?

The big problem with allowing a few characters to be anything other than cishet is that there are still many countries in the world that outlaw homosexuality. As much as we like to think that the MCU is being made for comic book fans, we all know the purpose of the films is to make money for Disney. And without certain markets in Asia and the Middle East, Disney wouldn’t be raking in up to (and over) one billion dollars per theatrical release.

Is There Any Hope For LGBTQ+ Fans In The MCU’s Future?

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the second in the much-loved Black Panther arc, will be released in cinemas this November. The studio has confirmed that the film will contain a queer character. Actress Michaela Coel will play Aneka, a warrior, and trainer of the king’s guard. Whether or not her diversity will stand out in the film (let alone endure for more than a 10-second scene that can be easily cut) remains to be seen.


Next year’s The Marvels film, starring Brie Larson, Iman Vellani, and Lashana Lynch may offer the MCU a chance to redeem itself in the eyes of its LGBT+ fans. The studios may feel it’s finally time to offer us the heartwarming lesbian relationship between Larson’s Carol Danvers and Lynch’s Maria Rambeau that seemed to be teased in the first Captain Marvel. Don’t raise your hopes too high, though, as you may yet end up as a stubborn golden retriever waiting for a cinematic universe to finally throw that rainbow ball.