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Arkansas Pro XCT race to go ahead amid outcry over anti-transgender laws

Mountain Biking in Arkansas
(Image credit: OZ Trails NWA)

As mountain bike racers arrive in Northwest Arkansas for the second round of USA Cycling's Pro Cross Country Tour in Fayettville, backlash has been brewing in recent weeks about anti-transgender legislation in the state. 

Attention has been centered around the 2022 Cyclo-cross World Championships that are scheduled to be held in Fayetteville, with some cyclists calling for a boycott. While this weekend's mountain bike race is not as high-profile of an event, the discriminatory laws will loom over the event. At least one professional athlete has elected not to travel to Arkansas for the race. 

The Legislation

There are three new discriminatory laws, two of which limit access to healthcare. 

This week, the state legislature passed a bill that bans doctors from providing treatments such as hormones, puberty blockers and transition-related surgeries to minors. Asa Hutchinson, the Arkansas governor, vetoed the bill and called it “vast government overreach," but the state legislature overrode him and signed the bill into law. 

The state also recently passed a law banning transgender girls and women from participating in women's school sports. The third law allows doctors to deny non-emergency medical treatments to patients based on religious or moral objections. While the law doesn't single out transgender people, the worry is that doctors would deny transgender people medical treatment, as well as other groups of people.

Response from USA Cycling 

This weekend's race, the OZ Trails U.S. Pro Cup p/b Experience Fayetteville, is organized by the U.S. Cup and is a part of the USA Cycling Pro XCT series, one of the country's premier professional cross-country series. In addition to the race this weekend, there is another one to be held in Fayetteville the following weekend. Both are UCI Class 1 events and are part of the UCI Junior Series. 

Amid outcry from the cycling community on social media, USA Cycling CEO Rob DeMartini told Singletracks.com that he did not support a boycott. 

"I just don't see where that goes. Particularly when this law is in front of 20 different states," DeMartini said. "I think we need to be part of the dialogue, which in my mind means to participate. It would be different if our athletes were going to be affected, but we don't believe they will be. There is a question around collegiate athletes if they're racing for their school."

DeMartini later posted on Twitter that he felt he was misquoted in the article, and that the statement was "very poorly worded by me and does not reflect the position of USA Cycling." 

It's unclear what USA Cycling's position is, as the organization has not released a public statement, nor has the UCI. 

The OZ Trails Cup organizer, Ty Kady, said in a statement that "We wanted to listen and learn. At the moment, The US Cup is actively engaging members of the LGBTQ community to get educated and work together on an action plan for the future."

Significance of Arkansas

In recent years, Northwest Arkansas has become a mountain bike hotspot, hosting events, building trails, and promoting itself as a cycling destination. Much of the effort has been led by Bentonville, which sits just to the north of Fayetteville. Last year, the city proclaimed itself the "Mountain Bike Capital of the World." 

Bentonville is the home to Walmart, the massive chain retailer and grocer, as well as Tom and Steuart Walton, heirs to the Walmart fortune. The Walton family has supported cycling and mountain biking by investing in both trail development and the industry.

Tom Walton has opposed the legislation, writing in a statement, "We are alarmed by the string of policy targeting LGBTQ people in Arkansas. This trend is harmful and sends the wrong message to those willing to invest in or visit our state." 

While Arkansas has become a leading mountain bike destination, the state government is controlled by a Republican majority, which is what allowed the laws to be passed. 

Should there be a boycott? 

Reactions are mixed as to whether or not to boycott the mountain bike race and other upcoming cycling events in Arkansas. 

Trans racer Molly Cameron told Bicycling that "while I’m not calling for a boycott at the moment, I won’t be going to the [cyclo-cross] World Cup or World Championships if they stay in Arkansas." 

Chris DiStefano, a bike industry professional, and father to a transgender woman, wrote on Instagram that he too would delay plans to attend the event in Arkansas if no action is taken. 

Northwest Arkansas Equality, a nonprofit advocating for LGBTQ people and causes, said that they do not currently support a boycott of the events. rather, they encourage supporters to donate to local groups and send comments to the governor. 

"While we do have some problematic legislators in [Northwest Arkansas], all of Fayetteville's representatives oppose these bills," the organization said in a statement provided to CXHairs Media. 

At least one professional mountain bike racer, Evelyn Dong, has elected not to attend the mountain bike race this weekend. 

"In light of recent legislation denying healthcare to transgender people in Arkansas, I’ve decided to not attend the upcoming US Cup events in Fayetteville," Dong wrote on Instagram. 

"There will be more bike races for me, but this moment to use my voice is fleeting, the post continued. 

"Cycling needs to be more inclusive, and going forward thoughtlessly into a place where discrimination is written into law won’t do our sport any good.

Dong is consistently a top contender in women's cross-country fields. She wrote in the post that one of her sponsors, Juliana Bicycles, supported the decision not the race. Another sponsor, Stan's NoTubes, wrote in a blog post that they too supported the decision. 

Racing begins on Friday, with the junior, women's and men's UCI Elite XCO races taking place on Sunday.