I WAS honoured to be invited to attend the LEAP Sports (Leadership, Equality and Active Participation in Sports for LGBTI people in Scotland) Conference in Glasgow last weekend, which had the theme Diverse Identities in Sport.

My role was to facilitate a workshop in the illustrious company of Jennifer Birch Jones from CAAWS (the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity) and Louise Tidswell of Play4sport who works hand in hand with the FA, Scottish FA and many other governing bodies of sport, assisting them in the compilation of their policies. It was a packed room as we listened to the opening address from Hugh Torrance, executive director of LEAP Sports.

As the conference progressed, we heard some very emotional stories which kept us sitting quietly on the edge of our seats. We heard about the heartache and pain many people endure just to find and be accepted in their own identity.

That said, there was also a lot of laughter, humour and hope present in the room. It’s amazing that those who have spent long parts of their life afraid to tell the world their true story, afraid that there may be at least a total lack of understanding or at worst a hostile reception, made a point of ensuring that everyone in attendance felt at ease and weren’t concerned about saying the wrong thing or using the wrong terminology. So often it is easier to stay quiet rather than say the wrong thing, use the wrong terminology, as we fear we may cause an upset.

We spend so much time encouraging people into sport or back into sport, yet for so long many transgender people have been, and sometimes still are, excluded.

During the conference we met Sophie, or Steve as she was previously known. Sophie, for me made the biggest impact. She is the official photographer for Bournemouth FC and told us her story of dread at the thought of having to tell the football club that she was no longer going to be Steve.

She was unsure and frightened of the reaction from the players, staff and supporters, and spent many nights worrying if she was doing the right thing. She told us, with a little laugh, that she made sure she was looking “fabulous” on the day she went in, full of trepidation, to meet with the team. Sophie couldn’t believe their reaction. She received a round of applause from the team and, after that, it was business as usual.

Perhaps we underestimate how many people are now accepting of the great diversity among the human race. But where we still fall down, though, is with rules and regulations that affect transgender people.

For many years most of our governing bodies of sport have adopted the British Olympic regulations, but as we gain more and more insight into the physiological side of transgender, it is now widely felt that a change to these rules is required, as they are aimed at top athletes.

Those who attended the conference gained a lot of knowledge and information – earning about the desperate lows experienced and how spirits could be lifted, with just a kind word from another person.

A warm welcome was extended to everyone to take time to mix and chat with each other during the break and to ask those awkward questions if they wished.

Yes, it can be an uncomfortable topic for many, but that doesn’t excuse us. We need to time to learn and better understand the issues surrounding transgender people. That knowledge, will in turn, help break down the barriers that currently exists.

LEAP Sports have created a great resource, a film telling the true story of six different transgender individuals, in their own words, about their attempts to participate in sport and the issues it threw up. This will be used as an educational resource to help sports bodies understand better just some of the issues faced by transgender people. If you would like more information, go to: http://leapsports.org/events/let-me-be-braveMaureen McGonigle is the founder of Scottish Women in Sport