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Olympic gold medalist trusts AP with news of transition to male

Ellia Green holds his daughter Waitui in Sydney, Australia, Aug. 15, 2022. Green, one of the stars of Australia’s 2016 Olympic gold medal-winning women's rugby sevens team, has transitioned to male. The 29-year-old, Fiji-born Green spoke with the AP before going public in a video at an international summit aimed at ending transphobia and homophobia in sport. (AP Photo / Mark Baker)

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The Sydney-based team of Dennis Passa, Mark Baker and John Pye made the AP one of only two news organizations trusted to interview and break the news of Ellia Green, a star on Australia’s 2016 gold medal-winning women’s sevens team, who has become rugby’s highest-profile player to transition to male. And AP was the only news outlet to get photos of Green and his family before the story went public.

Trust established over years by sports writers Passa and Pye with a notable advocate in the LGBTQ community, as well as interviews Passa conducted previously with high-profile athletes who have come out as gay, led directly to this first-of-a-kind story. AP’s handling these stories with sensitivity rather than sensationalism helped win this interview.

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In photo at left, Ellia Green poses with his partner Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts and their daughter Waitui in Sydney, Australia, Aug. 15, 2022. At right, Green dives to score against the United States during the Women’s Rugby Sevens World Cup final in San Francisco, July 21, 2018. – AP Photos / Mark Baker (left); Jeff Chiu

Green hadn’t previously disclosed his transition — he wanted to keep it private and was extremely reluctant to do media interviews. Many hours of planning and almost as much communication between AP, the LGBTQ contact and Green were required before the now-retired athlete agreed to the interview. But requests to make photos were met with a flat refusal.

Passa, however, built a rapport with Green before the interview, earning enough trust that Green tentatively agreed to let photographer Baker shoot portraits. The interview and photo sessions went well, along with follow-up contact by Pye, who covered rugby at the Olympics and had previously done interviews with Green and other players on the Australian team.

Writing and editing the piece was complicated because Green doesn’t identify as transgender male — just male. AP’s new style guidance on coverage of transgender issues helped, along with conversations and advice from outside sources. AP negotiated for the story to be published a couple of hours before a prerecorded video of Green was played at a summit in Canada aimed at ending transphobia and homophobia in sport.

Passa’s story — further elevated by Baker’s photos of Green, his partner and infant child — had instant impact. Australian news outlets, including The Sydney Morning Herald, used the AP story or had to cite AP’s interview in their own coverage, and top rugby journalists took to social media, complimenting AP’s work. The piece appeared on major news sites in North America and Europe and led the AP’s own platforms for sports overage by a significant margin.

Green hasn’t commented publicly since the story appeared, leaving AP as the primary source for independent quotes from the former player.

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