Pokemon Judge Receives Lifetime Ban Following Harassment of Transgender Players at Tournament
The Pokemon Company International has permanently banned a certified judge from participating in the Pokemon community following transphobic behavior toward a group of players at last weekend’s Vancouver Regionals, one of Pokemon’s main series tournaments of the year. The event saw over a thousand players from around the world competing for $65,000 in prizes and a chance to qualify for Pokemon’s 2023 World Championships in Japan.
According to player Elizabeth Barbera, during the event, a Texan Pokemon judge asked to take a selfie with her and a group of transgender players who are part of a competitive Pokémon TCG team called “Girl Power.” He requested to step outside the event hall to ask them questions about the transgender community. “[He] started out positive asking us how Pokemon judges could do better [to be] more inclusive,” Barbera said. “I do think the original discussion was coming from a place of sincerity.”
“But it quickly devolved,” Barbera said. The judge “told each of the trans women in our group how he could tell they were ‘born a boy,’ for reasons such as ‘you have a boyish build’ or ‘you have a manly face’.” She continued, “he didn’t listen to our [views] and instead chose to talk over us.” After politely excusing themselves from the conversation, the judge followed the players to a private dinner outside the event, despite not being invited, and continued to antagonize them. According to player Natalie Miller, he admitted “he needed players to give him good feedback in order to move up the ladder.” During the dinner, he continued to “[go around] one by one to all of us pointing out why we don’t pass for women.”
The players filed complaints through Pokemon’s official support system and the situation was swiftly resolved by event staff. Miller said, “[The event organizers] and other judges were absolutely wonderful with how they handled everything. It was a clear sign that the vast majority of this community is loving, inclusive, and wants to treat people that right way. But the few who get through the cracks do so much damage.”
The incident has left many players shaken. “I’m hearing that there were preexisting allegations against this judge prior to Vancouver and if that’s true I’m even more incensed. LGBTQIA+ folks are being systemically targeted politically. Pokemon is supposed to be an escape for us” said Riley Wren, another member of the group.
Miller further commented, “Pokemon is our safe space, a place where we usually feel welcome and are treated with dignity and respect. To have that stripped from us by a person in a position of power is mortifying. It can take what is supposed to be an escape from a modern hellscape that trans people already face in America and swiftly ruin the entire weekend. Seeing my teammates still deal with panic attacks and feelings of worthlessness is heartbreaking.”
This incident comes in light of recent legislation targeting the LGBT+ community by some American politicians. Kyle M., a trans Pokemon player in Los Angeles who studied political science at USC, explained “American politicians often want us attacking each other. Hate is an easy human instinct for them to prey on. So anyone who’s different, they market them as the cause of all your problems. Immigrants, LGBT people, trans people, minorities, drag queens — they’re easy targets. While we’re distracted attacking our neighbors, the politicians are robbing us with policies that benefit themselves and corporations.” He continued, “Luckily, the Pokemon community is above this. At Pokemon events, fans are usually supportive and just want you to live your best life. They know we’re not hurting anyone; they just let us be ourselves.”
Despite this incident, TPCi has a strong record supporting the LGBT+ community. In 2019, they implemented an official company-wide policy committed to “fostering an environment that is inclusive to all participants regardless of factors, including age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or disability.” The company quickly stripped the judge of his titles and banned him from the community, although it’s not 100% clear if other issues may have lead to the ban as well.
When asked by PokeBeach how TPCi could improve future events, Miller suggested, “There should be a push for inclusive training led preferably by a trans person as to how to treat trans and gender queer people, and how to respond to incidents like this when they happen. I would love to see either optional pronouns on match slips, or something that allows judges to have quick access to a player’s pronouns to avoid any confusion.”
TPCi never comments on situations like this, so we didn’t reach out to them for a statement.