Celebrating Pride: Transgender and nonbinary athlete pushes for equity

For the most part, two things have remained constant in Cal Calamia's life: his love for running and his name.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023
Celebrating Pride: Transgender, nonbinary athlete pushes for equity
Non-binary and transgender runner Cal Calamia has made major strides when it comes to fighting for equality of trans athletes.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- For the most part, two things have remained constant in Cal Calamia's life: his love for running and his name.

"I've actually been going by Cal almost my entire life which is kind of a unique thing for people who transition," Calamia said. "I'm really grateful for that because it helps me kind of hold both of those identities. Not all trans people identify as nonbinary, but being someone who does, that's important to me."

Calamia uses he/they pronouns. He grew up in the Midwest playing soccer, then started running cross-country, and even continued the sport in college where he competed as an out queer woman.

"I was navigating that in Missouri," Calamia continued. "There were queer people. It was the first time I had a queer community, but it wasn't like it is here. There was kind of always the sense that I didn't feel super right in my gender, but I didn't know it was possible to have a different life."

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San Francisco teacher Cal Calamia, 25, has become the first non-binary winner of Bay to Breakers 2022.

Nonbinary is a term people use to describe genders that don't fall into the male or female categories. "Nonbinary for me means that I just don't prescribe totally to manhood nor womanhood," Calamia said.

ABC7 News anchor Jobina Fortson met up with Calamia on a Saturday morning at Golden Gate Park to check out his running club, Nonbinary Run Club or NBRC. Everyone in the club identifies as transgender or nonbinary. Theo Espy is a member and relatively new to running and sports in general.

"I think as a kid, I didn't want people to associate me with my body a lot of the time because I didn't feel that alignment," Espy said. "So now that I'm living this new life, to get to feel aligned with my body, to get to come together with people to run, it's a feeling of safety and freedom."

Freedom by definition means, "The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint." For many transgender and nonbinary folks across the country, they don't have access to true "freedom."

According to Trans Legislation Tracker, so far this year 556 bills targeting transgender people have been proposed nationally. At least 80 of those bills have passed, including legislation restricting who can participate in athletic events.

In May, Alabama's governor signed a bill making it illegal for public universities to allow trans people to participate in sports that don't correspond with their gender assigned at birth. The state already passed a bill banning it for K-12 public schools a couple of years ago. The NCAA, sets its rules sport by sport and follow guidelines set by major world or national governing bodies. For Calamia, his bi-monthly running club is a form of protest.

"It's such a counter narrative to the conversations about trans people in sports," Calamia continued. "That we don't belong, that we don't deserve to participate, that we ruin them, right? It's just a joyous community that is growing."

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Calamia's club is clearly a success, but it took over two decades to get here. Following college graduation, he moved to San Francisco to be a teacher, began his transition and took a break from running.

"When I came back, it was really frustrating because I felt like I didn't know what category I should be registered under," Calamia explained. "I felt like it wasn't right for me to be running with the women. It didn't feel right. I didn't want it to be unfair. Then it was, 'Okay, well are you a man?' Because it's either that or that."

In 2022, ABC7 News anchor Jobina Fortson met Calamia as he was making a splash all over local airwaves. He was calling out San Francisco's oldest and arguably most iconic race, Bay to Breakers. Originally, Bay to Breakers allowed nonbinary runners to register for the race, but refused to give awards to anyone outside of the male and female categories.

"It just struck me as wrong because it kind of spoke more to their view that yeah trans and nonbinary runners sure we'll take your money, you can run, but if you do well it doesn't matter," Calamia said.

Locally, Bay to Breakers faced sharp criticism and queer equity won. Calamia went on to win the nonbinary category last year and this year in race.

Bay to Breakers now has a new production company, but Calamia's efforts have reached far beyond the Bay. He helped the Boston and Chicago Marathons add nonbinary running categories for the first time. Calamia placed second in both races in his category. The Chicago Marathon felt full circle for him.

"That was also my hometown race, so that was really cool," Calamia said. "It was my third time running it, the first time in the right category. I had run it twice previously as a female."

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ABC News' Gio Benitez sat down with six Transgender teenagers and young adults to show they're just like anyone else.

Calamia's activism hasn't come without backlash, but it's spanned from the classroom teaching students, to teaching people he passes on the street, who may not even realize what they're learning.

"It kind of links this thread that I've kind of identified within myself," Calamia said. "(Which) is this desire to be myself and help other people be themselves."

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