Change Our Game

The Victorian Government is committed to increasing the number of women and girls participating in sport and active recreation, from grassroots to senior leadership roles.

The Inquiry into Women and Girls in Sport and Active Recreation was established in late 2014 to advise the Victorian Minister for Sport on practical actions that the sector could adopt to enhance participation by women and girls to increase their engagement in leadership and governance roles.

Following the Inquiry, the Change Our Game initiative was launched, designed to encourage the sports and recreation sector to challenge gender stereotypes and help women and girls become leaders.

Below is an interview with Michelle Sheppard, affectionately known as Mama Mish, who is a highly respected presenter, advocate, and trainer in the gender equity space. As a transgender woman, she appreciates the difficulties within the grey created by the gender divide. She embodies dignity, grace and the change needed to make a positive difference in others’ lives, empowers women and challenges barriers to inclusion, discrimination and harassment. We had a chat with Mama Mish to find out more about her life, her work and her experiences in sports so far.

Here is the link to the original interview:

https://changeourgame.vic.gov.au/leadership-centre/meet-mama-mish

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I am a transgender woman who is a single parent and originally from the USA. I have lived here for over 20 years and transitioned 9+ years ago. In that time, I have become a public speaker and Diversity and Inclusion practitioner, raising awareness of LGBTIQ+ inclusion in the workplace as well as the community and in sport.

What sports do/have you played?

Before coming out as transgender I would play softball, grid iron and had a history growing up participating in track and field and long-distance running.

After I came out, I often found a lot of negative talk regarding transgender inclusion in sport inside and outside queer spaces that deterred my pursuit of playing. I saw some trans folk playing roller derby but never was confident on skates. I eventually joined a local AFL 9’s team that was co-ed with queer and non-queer people.

Have your experiences been positive?

I found the co-ed space was very inclusive and I was starting to get more involved; then COVID happened, and it has been hard to get back into that space. I have often considered trying other sports like tennis, but with the current conversations happening I have taken a cautious approach to getting back into the sporting space. I have spoken to other transgender women who have even considered competing in men’s spaces just to avoid the backlash. Waking up each morning and reading more and more about bans on transgender women specifically and how we are not allowed or wanted makes it harder to want to be in the sport space.

How important is inclusion when it comes to community sport?

Sport first off is great for us to move our body and improve our health. But also, from a social point of view and being around other people and developing a community. Teaching us teamwork and boosting our self-esteem. Excluding people who aren’t like us, including all populations across race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and disability tells others we don’t want them around and you don’t belong in our community. At a community level it is even more important in how it flows into their families as well, teaching parents and families to be more accepting of differences in society.

How can someone be a good ally in sport?

Standing up for negativity and highlighting when false material or ideas are being presented. Being the voice to call out microaggressions and not being afraid to speak up overall. Remind yourself of your club/team codes and remind your team the values you would have been founded on. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

How important is awareness, education and knowledge around diversity? What can individuals and organisations do to help spread these messages?

Many people do not know what they do not know. They base their beliefs and judgments on people who are different from what they see on television, from family or friends who have deep rooted negative beliefs, or what they read in the media. Not often do they have the opportunity to meet someone who might be different from them because they aren’t comfortable engaging outside their own circles. Bring in people with lived experience to educate and connect with people who are different. Bringing in educators to talk about different groups and share their lived experience can help bring down the guard of others and start what is often a long overdue conversation to including people we often wouldn’t meet on the street.

Mama Mish has been involved in a number of high-profile engagements including JOY 94.9, Brown‑Forman, Tennis Australia, AFL, RMIT, ANZ, BMW, and Channel 9. Visit http://www.mishsheppard.com to find out more.

Tuesday 2 August, 2022

https://changeourgame.vic.gov.au/leadership-centre/meet-mama-mish

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