Caitlyn Jenner Deserves to Keep Her Olympic Medal

June 4th 2015

Laura Donovan

While Caitlyn Jenner's transition has been celebrated by many this week, she was inevitably the subject of backlash as well. One person even created a Change.org petition to revoke Jenner's 1976 decathlon medal due to Jenner's comment that she was a woman at heart when she competed in the male races. 

"Ms. Jenner (as talented as she is) claims that she has always believed herself to be truly female, and therefore, was in violation of committee rules regarding women competing in men's sports and vice versa. Therefore, it is with a heavy heart that we must ask whether or not it is proper that Ms. Jenner should retain her olympic records in light of this, as we must now either claim that Bruce Jenner and Caitlyn Jenner are two entirely different people (which we know is not true), or that Bruce Jenner was, in fact, a woman participating in a men's event. It is only fair to all involved that women receive their credit as champions of the Decathalon and that the men racing Ms. Jenner are not expected to compete with a superior, streamlined being such as herself. We urge Ms. Jenner to support the transgender community by giving up the medals earned by competing against the wrong gender."

The petition, which has already racked up more than 10,000 signatures, called for supporters to use the hashtag #givebackthegold on social media. While the campaign has been lauded by some, many think it's in poor taste and just another way to shut down Jenner's decision.

The status of trans athletes at the Olympics.

In the early 2000s, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) became the first international sports organization to release guidelines for transgender participation in competitions: 

They must have had gender reassignment surgery. 

They must have legal recognition of their assigned gender.

They must have at least two years of hormone therapy.

No openly trans athlete has ever competed for the United States in Olympic competition. We came close in 2012 when Keelin Godsey, who identifies as male, failed to qualify for the women's hammer throw competition. In 2012, Godsey told the New York Times that he had been waiting to undergo gender reassignment surgery in order to continue competing in the women's category.

During the Olympics, Jenner hadn't had a gender reassignment surgery, and she was also legally recognized as William Bruce Jenner. It wasn't until the 1980s that Jenner started taking hormones. So even if she wanted to compete with women, it might not have been possible, especially since these rules were not in place in the 1970s.

During Sawyer's interview with Jenner that aired in the spring, Jenner looked at a picture of herself competing in the Olympics and said "that is her," referring to her inner self as a woman, so it's true that Jenner's identity has always been female.

So was it Caitlyn or Bruce who won the medals?

Jenner's announcements does raise an interesting question for sports historians, as the Washington Post pointed out. Since Jenner was not openly identifying as a female, how should we refer to her past sports accomplishments? As the Post put it, "Is every source that refers to 'Bruce Jenner, record-breaking athlete' — or 'Bruce Jenner, guest star on ‘Silver Spoons' — now in need of a correction?" According to GLAAD, yes. Their media guide explains that we should "[a]void pronoun confusion when examining the stories and backgrounds of transgender people prior to their transition."

"Ideally a story will not use pronouns associated with a person's birth sex when referring to the person's life prior to transition," GLAAD's media guide advises.

As the Washington Post reported, a Wikipedia user has already made the change to Jenner's Wiki entry.

For more on issues facing transgender Americans, check out our video on the battle for gender neutral bathrooms: