Trans footballer and Olympic hero Quinn’s journey to the top is nothing short of inspiring

Win or lose, Canadian footballer Quinn will, at the end of the women’s Olympics football final, become the first out trans athlete in history to win an Olympic medal.

Simply making it to the Games was already a historic achievement for the 25-year-old midfielder, who together with weightlifter Laurel Hubbard and skateboarder Alana Smith, shares the honour of being the first openly trans athlete to compete at the Olympics.

Having helped Canada make it to the final of the women’s football tournament, Quinn is guaranteed a medal – the match will decide whether they take silver or gold.

They already have one bronze medal to their name from Rio 2016, but this will be their first as an out trans athlete.

Like all Olympians, their journey to the top is a testament to their sheer grit and determination to succeed – and all the more so for being trans. Here’s a look at their incredible story.

Olympic footballer Quinn could’ve been a dancer

Quinn was born to a sporting family in Toronto with a father who played college rugby and a mother who played college basketball. As an active child, their parents initially tried to direct their energies into dancing.

“My parents put me in dance classes: ballet, jazz, hip-hop – and I hated it. Then, it was some house league hockey. But I always had a fondness for soccer. That was No 1,” they told Toronto.com, which dubbed them “the most multi-talented athlete in the history of Havergal College”.

Quinn began playing football at the young age of six, and as a child they also swam, played hockey and skied competitively.

It was football they excelled at though, and by the time they were ten they’d been selected for the under-14 provincial team and were playing for the national-level youth program.

They went on to play college football at Duke University from 2013-17 while majoring in marine biology, becoming the first Canadian to play for the Blue Devils team.

Quinn was still in college when they made their Olympic debut at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, where they helped the team win a bronze medal.

After graduation the football star was picked to play for Washington Spirit, becoming the highest-drafted Canadian player in NWSL history – and they were still only 23.

Quinn questioned their ‘future in football, and in life’

Quinn now plays for OL Reign in the American National Women’s Soccer League alongside Megan Rapinoe, and has also played 63 times for the Canadian national team.

By 2020 their sporting career was going from strength to strength – but their gender identity was a whole other frontier.

“When I was figuring out who I was, it was really scary and I didn’t really understand if I had a future in football, if I had a future in life,” they told the BBC.

“It’s really difficult when you don’t see people like yourself in the media or even around you or in your profession. I was operating in the space of being a professional footballer and I wasn’t seeing people like me.”

It’s why they made the decision to come out publicly in an Instagram post in September 2020, and immediately became one of the most well-known trans athletes on the planet.

“Coming out is HARD (and kinda bs),” they wrote. “I know for me it’s something I’ll be doing over again for the rest of my life. As I’ve lived as an openly trans person with the people I love most for many years, I did always wonder when I’d come out publicly.”

It marked the end of them living “essentially two different lives”, Quinn said, after feeling for so long like they had “a disconnect” between different parts of their life.

At this point the athlete was already openly queer, having been named as one of 40 out players in the 2019 Women’s World Cup, but their trans identity wasn’t something they’d previously made public.

Knowing that the post would attract a lot of attention, they used the moment to encourage their followers to be better allies to trans people by putting their pronouns in their bios.

 

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A post shared by Quinn (@thequinny5)

Quinn’s coming out was a sensation in the sporting world, and international media seized on the news. Unfortunately though, not all reports were as considerate as they’d have liked.

Tweeting shortly after their announcement, Quinn said: “Nearly every publication, including LGBTQ news sources, has used my deadname while reporting my story.

“The news matters and it’s crucial to write about trans people using their name and pronouns. Please do your research, change your headlines, and grow.”

‘Spaces of ignorance’ remain in women’s football, Quinn says

Those in Quinn’s personal circle had known their identity for some time, and the reaction from Canada teammates, who they told in an email, was “overwhelmingly positive”.

For “the most part” women’s football is a supportive space, they told the BBC, but there are still “spaces of ignorance”.

“It’s been a really long ride with [Canada teammates] and they are people who I consider some of my best friends,” Quinn said. “A lot of those players have been my concrete supports going through this process.

“I think when looking at the larger realm of women’s football there still are spaces of ignorance and there is a little bit of push back, so those are definitely opinions that I want to see change over a period of time and to create a completely safe space for me, because quite honestly I don’t think sport is there yet and women’s football is there yet.”

Quinn was on loan to the Swedish club Vittsjö at the time they came out. They praised the positive response from their teammates there, but admitted that it hasn’t always been smooth sailing elsewhere.

“From other teams that I’m on, it hasn’t been that way,” they told The Trans Sporter Room podcast. “There have been a couple of players who have had questions or outwardly told me that they didn’t approve or said some really ignorant hurtful things.”

Nonetheless, Quinn has persevered.

Despite the scrutiny they’ve faced, they told the Canadian media that they wanted to be out in the public eye as “a visible figure for young trans folks or people questioning their gender, people exploring their gender”.

“Unfortunately when I was growing up and even going through that process of figuring out myself in college, I didn’t have those people in the public sphere to look up to, really,” they added.

 

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A post shared by Quinn (@thequinny5)

The history-making football star keeps their eyes on the prize

As the first trans Olympic champion, Quinn has become the role model they desperately needed when they were young. The magnitude of their achievement isn’t lost on them, but they remain grounded and focused on the broader issues ahead.

“I feel proud seeing ‘Quinn’ up on the lineup and on my accreditation,” Quinn wrote on Instagram on 22 July, at the outset of the Games. “I feel sad knowing there were Olympians before me unable to live their truth because of the world.”

They continued: “I feel optimistic for change. Change in legislature. Changes in rules, structures, and mindsets.

“Mostly, I feel aware of the realities. Trans girls being banned from sports. Trans women facing discrimination and bias while trying to pursue their Olympic dreams. The fight isn’t close to over … and I’ll celebrate when we’re all here.”