Bowls officials are changing its “historical and outdated” guidance on transgender players – after a trans female was barred from competing.
Stella Moore, 67, is set become the first trans female to play in a women’s league in Bowls England’s 120 year history.
She has lived for three years as a woman and joined her local Hayling Bowls Club in Hampshire.
Stella says she started playing the game a time when she was depressed – and said it brought her happiness.
She took to the sport so well she hoped to compete in a women’s league.
But her hopes of competing against fellow female bowlers were dashed by Portsmouth and District Women’s Bowling Association.
It said the sport’s rules meant in order to compete she had to have sex change surgery – or produce a certificate to prove she was a woman.
But Bowls England have now said their previous guidelines were “historical and outdated”.
Chief executive Jon Cockroft said it is ”developing a new trans and gender-diverse policy.”
Stella, of Hayling Island, Hampshire, said: ”It was just incredible really – I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“There is a lot of people suffering like me with bowls and other sports to be honest.
“It makes me feel awful, like a freak. I’m not a freak, I’m a human being. I was distraught, I love bowls.
“I get it that if it’s boxing a guy can’t suddenly go, ‘I want to be a woman and fight other women’, but this is bowls.”
Stella has campaign to be allowed to play in women’s competitions and for the guidelines to be changed.
Previous guidelines referred to “the transsexual gaining most sympathy by acting reasonably”, they should “present themselves in an understated fashion” as few lady bowlers “vamp up” on the green and the opposition should be advised that the member should not “embarrass anyone” involved.
The Portsmouth and District Women’s Bowling Association say they have been following guidance published in 2014.
That required gender reassignment surgery three years before playing or for Stella to hold a gender recognition certificate.
Stella, who has two children and is separated from her wife of 37 years, said that at over £100, the UK gender recognition certificate was too expensive.
The retired quality engineer, who has already been waiting for surgery for several years, also criticised the trans policy on the association’s website.
She previously said: “The league is in the Dark Ages and the rules are archaic. I understand if it was a sport like boxing there would need to be more considerations, but this is bowls.
“It is so frustrating that we have to prove ourselves time and again. My club wants me to play because they think I am good enough.”
Stella is on hormone treatment to increase her female characteristics and reduce her strength, meaning she now has “the strength of a 30-year-old woman”, which she says can be clinically proven by her GP and the gender clinic.
Bowls England have said their previous guidelines were “historical and outdated” and that it would absolutely not recognise or support the language used now.
“We are in the process of developing a new trans and gender-diverse policy,” chief executive Jon Cockroft told BBC South.
“Whilst the physical demands of bowls are more modest than most sports, it is still a gender-affected sport.
“Our new policy is being designed to balance a desire for inclusivity, so everybody can feel welcome in bowls, with the importance of ensuring fair competition.
“More broadly, we anticipate more mixed and open competition in the future as people increasingly consume sport on a more casual basis.
“We are at the final stages of consultation on this complex matter and intend to have our new policy in place before the start of the season.”
Bowls England have also been in touch with Stella directly as they continue to work on a way forward.
Stella hopes to see a more welcoming stance towards trans bowls payers soon – as it is in Scotland.
She said: “In Scotland there’s not an issue, people from there have been in touch saying they can play no problem.
“It’s about putting pressure on the various bodies.”