ITALY: Trans-Identified Male Takes Home Eighth Women’s Running Title At Indoor Masters Championship

A 49 year-old trans-identified male runner has seized his eighth championship title in a women’s category after smashing the competition at the Italian Indoor Masters Championship in Ancona.

On March 12, Valentina Petrillo, born Fabrizio, competed in the 200m race for women aged 50 to 54. Marco Alciator, a statistician, was present at the championship to monitor Petrillo’s performance and provided a report to the Italian Feminist Post on what he witnessed.

Alciator recorded that that a difference in “physicality [was] immediately noticeable,” and that the female competitors were unable to hold their own against Petrillo, who effortlessly dominated the competition.

But Petrillo’s prowess in women’s athletic competitions is hardly praiseworthy, says Alciator, who notes that if Petrillo had been competing in the equivalent men’s race, he wouldn’t have even broken the top 10.

“Were it not for the fact that Petrillo is still unbelievably entitled to compete in the women’s category, he would have finished 14th place in the M50 category.”

Following Petrillo’s victory, the female athlete who came in second place expressed that she felt disappointed in the results. Cristina Sanulli would have come in first place, and set a women’s indoor running record, if not for Petrillo.

“We do not feel equal, precisely because [Petrillo’s] physical structure is male,” Sanulli said to Alciator. “So we are not running at par. Although the [personal] path Valentina has taken is respectable… athletically speaking it is not, and because of this we feel very discriminated against.”

At the end of the race, a spectator could be heard shouting, “Brava, Cristina!” a cheer that received applause from other athletes. This show of support for Sanulli enraged Petrillo, Alciator says, who then shouted several times in response: “Dedicated to all those who want to hurt me!”

Leading up to the latest race, a women’s rights advocacy group called RadFem Italia contacted government officials to ensure that Petrillo would not be granted access to the women’s locker rooms. In response, Petrillo was provided with a designated changing room reserved especially for him at the Italian Masters Championships in Ancona.

On March 16, Petrillo again lashed out in a Facebook post wherein he equated criticism of his presence in women’s sports to Nazism, telling detractors they were “on the same level as Hitler,” and comparing sex-based sports categories to a 1936 ban on Jewish athletes.

Upset at being denied the use of the women’s locker room, Petrillo wrote, “In Ancona, you made me have a terrible time, it is not fair… you’ve relegated me to a ‘dedicated’ locker room,” a situation which he claimed was similar to the segregation of those called appestati, or sufferers of a plague.

Sanulli (silver), Petrillo (gold) and Neumann (bronze) on the podium of the women’s 200 meters at the Italian master championships in Arezzo, age group 45-49, October 2020

A number of female athletes and professional experts have been highlighting concerns about Petrillo’s participation in the women’s category. At the Master’s Athletics Championships in Arezzo in October 2020, Petrillo outpaced Sanulli and Denise Neumann, both of whom had previously won world and European Masters titles and have been regarded as the best in their events.

The athletes took the podium with Petrillo at the time to avoid becoming embroiled in controversy, but later stated that they felt that Petrillo had an unfair advantage.

“I didn’t feel like I competed as an equal. It was my race, my goal for the season. I had been preparing it for a long time and I wanted to win,” Sanulli said at the time.

Sanulli and Neumann were among more than 30 female Master athletes who signed a petition in 2021 opposing men being permitted to identify into women’s sports.

The women were represented by Italian lawyer and athletics champion Mariuccia Fausta Quilleri, who claimed that the admission of male athletes in women’s competitions constitutes a violation of Article 1 of the Code of Equal Opportunities between Men and Women. The petition was sent to the president of the Italian Athletics Federation, Stefano Mei, the Minister for Equal Opportunities, Elena Bonetti, and the undersecretary of state for sport, Valentina Vezzali. According to RadFem Italia, their efforts were not acknowledged by the government officials.

Petrillo took first place in all three sprints that he participated in at the Paralympics qualifiers, where he competed against women with visual impairments

Petrillo currently holds 8 women’s running championship titles, but failed to earn even one while competing as a male. In January 2019, Petrillo changed his name to Valentina and began taking estrogen. The following year, he began competing against female athletes and has since broken multiple Italian women’s running records.

Petrillo has been diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a disorder of the eye that causes retinal degeneration over time. Due to this visual impairment, he has been permitted to compete in both matches designated for women with disabilities, as well as those which are not.

In September 2020, Petrillo raced in the women’s 100-, 200- and 400-meter competitions at the Italian Paralympic Athletics Championships in Jesolo, despite having not undergone the procedure euphemistically labeled sex reassignment surgery.

Additionally, Petrillo had not altered his identification documents, which still listed his sex as male, though this did not deter him from being granted permission to enter the match. He won first place in all three races and therefore qualified to represent Italy at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

At the last minute, however, the Italian government intervened and barred Petrillo from competing against women with disabilities at the Paralympics in 2021. The International Olympics Committee (IOC) had just announced updates to guidelines for trans-identifying competitors stating that male athletes must keep the levels of their testosterone below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months in order to participate.

After being awarded three gold medals at the Paralympics qualifiers, Petrillo dedicated his victory to Bologna-based trans activist organization Gruppo Trans APS, headed by a trans-identifying male named Milena Bargiacchi.

“I dedicated to them my victory in my favorite race,” Petrillo told OutSports. “Gruppo Trans supported me in my darkest hour, and they helped me find the answers I needed when I was questioning my identity and my life.”

Valentina Petrillo. Photo Source: Facebook

Gruppo Trans’ website has a section dedicated to outreach for crossdressers, where counseling and Zoom sessions are offered. The point of contact is a man called Charlotte Verniani, who runs a lingerie and sex shop and engages in a fetish practice called “female masking,” a sexual activity which involves men donning a silicone “female” face mask, or, on occasion, a full-body silicone “woman suit.”

Speaking about his history with the BBC in June 2021, Petrillo said: “Until four years ago, if you’d talked to Fabrizio (the name Petrillo was given at birth), Fabrizio would have given you the idea he was sexist. He was a tough guy who’d speak dismissively of women and then be a woman in his private space.”

Petrillo has stated that he used to “try on his mother’s clothes” when he was younger, a behavior that until recently was considered a symptom of a sexual disorder known as transvestic fetishism. He has also said that prior to declaring a transgender identity, Petrillo would steal his wife’s clothing. While describing a memory of “touching” his mother’s skirt for the first time, Petrillo said, “It was an incredible emotion. It was like touching heaven with your finger tip.”

Petrillo displays the Gruppo Trans flag at a rally in May 2021. Photo: Facebook

Gruppo Trans lobbies for males to be allowed to compete in women’s sports, and runs a program called QueerFit, a fitness course that offers “genderless changing rooms” and guarantees “privacy” of participants by allowing them to join using an alias.

The organization frequently employs Petrillo as a representative, and he has spoken for Gruppo Trans on several occasions. Gruppo Trans is backing a documentary film about Petrillo’s life called “5 Nanomoles – The Olympic Dream of a Trans Woman.” The title is a reference to the maximum testosterone limit set by World Athletics in 2019 for trans-identifying males in order for them to be eligible to compete against women.

In addition to partnering with Petrillo to campaign for males in women’s athletics events, Gruppo Trans also discusses “trans adolescents” and offers a variety of “training” programs through their website. Corporate diversity management training, courses for health care workers, and gender identity workshops for teachers are all available, as are lessons for children intended to be provided by instructors at schools.

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