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B.C. man questions 9-year-old’s gender in ‘gobsmacking’ track-and-field incident

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details of verbal abuse in relation to transphobia.

A B.C. family has garnered sympathy online — and international media attention — after sharing what they described as an incident in which a man questioned their nine-year-old daughter’s gender during a sporting event.

The incident occurred during a track-and-field meet at the Apple Bowl Stadium in Kelowna, B.C., organized by the Central Okanagan School District (SD23) for elementary school students.

Heidi Starr said her daughter, who is cisgender and has a pixie cut, was preparing for a shot put contest when a man approached a parent volunteer, pointed to the nine-year-old and, mistaking her for a boy, questioned why a boy was participating in a girls’ event. CBC News has agreed to keep the girl’s identity confidential to protect her safety and well-being.

“As my daughter was preparing to get up and throw, a man came out of the crowd, stepped forward and walked towards a parent volunteer and said, ‘This is a girls’ event — why are boys throwing?'” Starr told CBC News.

Starr said she then intervened and corrected the man, whose granddaughter was also participating in the event. 

“Then the gentleman started insisting that I provide documentation in the form of a certificate proving that my daughter was born a girl,” Starr said.

Starr added that the man’s wife was also shouting at Starr and Starr’s ex-wife, saying they were “genital mutilators and groomers.”

“It was gobsmacking,” Starr said.

“I said … ‘Are you asking for a certificate proving that my daughter was born with a vagina [and] you need a proof of her genitals?'”

A man and a woman in black wear sunglasses.
Josef Tesar, left, and his wife, Krista, are pictured at the track-and-field meet in Kelowna’s Apple Bowl stadium. (Submitted by Heidi Starr)

Starr said several parents asked the man to leave, but he refused and left with his wife and granddaughter at the end of the event.

In a statement to Kelowna news outlet Castanet on Tuesday, the man, Josef Tesar, denied yelling at the Starrs and their daughter.

He said he asked the parent volunteer whether the event was co-educational, but hadn’t asked whether the girl was transgender.

“As I was walking away from the official, a woman [said], ‘I’m her mother,’ and [she was] yelling, and swearing at me and offering if I want to see [the girl] naked, or if I want to see her genitals,” he said in the statement.

“I said, ‘No, the certificate is OK.’ That’s all I said. I never pointed to another girl and said she’s obviously trans. That is a big lie as well.”

Two women stand with a child in between with blurred face, with a dog on the side.
Heidi Starr, left, is pictured with her daughter and partner Amber Anderson. Starr says her daughter was deeply affected by the incident. (Submitted by Heidi Starr)

Starr shared the incident on Facebook, which has garnered sympathy for her daughter and international media attention, as well as criticism of Tesar’s behaviour. 

In a tweet, B.C. Premier David Eby described the incident transphobic: “This is awful — this kind of hate is not acceptable or welcome in British Columbia.”

Starr said her daughter embraces inclusivity towards individuals of diverse gender identities, having been raised by lesbian parents and having transgender teachers and coaches, but that the incident also deeply affected the girl.

“She was physically vibrating. She was sobbing. She was in and out of tears all day till bedtime that day,” Starr said.

Kari Starr, Heidi’s ex-wife, added the incident occurred on the girl’s birthday.

“I think she’s risen above it and [become] stronger, but not to say it’s not going to affect her in some capacity forever.”

In a statement, SD23 Supt. Kevin Kaardal said the district is taking action to prohibit Tesar and his wife from entering its schools and attending its events in the future.

“We expect that adults who are invited to celebrate student success govern their behaviour and conduct themselves with the civility and respect we expect from students,” Kaardal said.

Heidi Starr said she has lodged a complaint against Tesar with the Kelowna RCMP, who have confirmed their investigation into the matter.

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