Opinion: Was Harlow Running Club’s “gender swap” parkrun insensitive or just a laugh?

Your Say / Sun 3rd Mar 2024 at 04:14pm

A FEW weeks ago, we interviewed former Olympic marathon runner, Mara Yamauchi regarding the subject of parkruns, gender and self-identification.

The subject had come up due to an ongoing debate regarding athletes who were born male, participating in female sports.

UK parkrun has stopped showing its fastest finishers after a row over trans-athletes holding female records.

The organisers have emailed local organisers informing them that statistics such as course records, most first-place finishes, and age grade records will no longer be published.

Whatever “side” you are on it, it is a sensitive subject. Fairness, inclusivity, safety etc.

On Saturday morning, a large number of athletes from Harlow Running Club decided to celebrate the fact that a number of their members had achieved landmarks ( 50/100/250 parkruns) by have a “gender swap” theme.

Some men turned up dressed as Pamela Anderson and some of the women went dressed as footballers, pilots etc.

This reporter will declare an interest. I am a member of the running club (only because there isn’t a Harlow Shuffling Club) but when I saw this was planned I thought, a la Sgt Wilson in Dads Army, “Is this wise?”

Other members thought it was, in light of present circumstances, that it was, to say the least, insensitive.

A leading figure in the LGBTQ community in Harlow described it as “crass and insensitive” Then they saw some of the photos and we can’t repeat what they said!

It begged a number of questions and has led to an opinion piece here.

One of the questions is: when it comes to fancy dress etc, where is the line?

Would it have been acceptable to turn up as members of the Black and White Minstrel Show or It Ain’t Half Hot Mum”. How about seventies imagining of what a gay person was like. We are thinking Dick Emery here. Because it is only a laugh and you should lighten up a bit.. no?

And we won’t even go there with the “too soon” costumes. Don’t be stupid, be a smarty…….

A few years ago, a member of the running club turned up as Jesus with a cross. This was on Easter Saturday or to be more precise, Low Saturday. An important day of mourning in the Christian calendar,

He was also standing a few hundred yards away from where a Catholic priest died in the town park. Of course he wasn’t to know but would he have dressed an Imam? Possibly not.

So what is to be done? A list of acceptable costumes. A guideline. Does everything have to have a set of rules. Political correctness gone mad?

To be honest, I don’t know the answer. It may well be, that I am a 62-year-old professional troublemaker who sees politics in everything.

The members we did speak to, could not see that one subject was connected with another. There wasn’t a lot of: “I can see your point”.

But perhaps a club has to be mindful of the politics. If they ever bid for funding, what will they say under diversity and inclusivity policy?

The running club is a tremendous example of a community club. We hope that they will take this opinion piece in the spirit it is intended………….

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3 Comments for Opinion: Was Harlow Running Club’s “gender swap” parkrun insensitive or just a laugh?:

Tracy George
2024-03-03 23:12:28

Storm in a teacup. There is no right not to be offended, being offended is a personal choice.

Peter Kinsella
2024-03-04 08:16:29

Just out of interest, who was the Catholic priest who died in the town park?

2024-03-04 22:11:26

Clearly the people who took part in the cross dressing were doing it for fun, not because they identified as anything different (as some have claimed). However, they were having fun at the expense of a minority group. In addition, I feel that many were trying to prove a point, rather than show acceptance of Parkrun as an inclusive community. Gender dysphoria, transphobic attitudes and the bullying that exists in schools and other places in our society is no laughing matter. People have lost their lives and this is not something that we should be joking about or making fun of. Attitudes like this merely perpetuate discrimination. Therefore, I think that this theme was highly insensitive and in poor taste, especially under the circumstances. I'm all for freedom of expression but not when it belittles or marginalises anyone. I love Parkrun but it was not the place that I wanted to be on Saturday.

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