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Teen Pokemon Player Disqualified For Offending Nonbinary Pokemon Judge
after the exchange, judges informed the player he was no longer allowed inside the venue — and kicked him out
Makani Tran, a young Pokemon Trading Card Game (TCG) player from Utah, was disqualified from the Pokemon TCG regional tournament in Charlotte last week after he allegedly made the judge presiding over his sixth round match uncomfortable about their pronouns. According to Tran, who posted about the disqualification in a Twitlonger, when the judge asked for his preferred pronouns before the match, he responded with his pronouns — he/him — but “let out a little nervous laugh” “[d]ue to the nerves and… being embarrassed.” From his account:
[A]fter that… the judge asks once more “what are your guys’s preferred pronouns.” Alex [Shchemanske, my opponent] says “He and him” and I then say “Uh yeah he and him haha”. The little laugh at the end was because I was trying not to be awkward and because I was just stating the exact thing Alex had just stated and it was kind of silly to me in that scenario. [Then] the judge looked at me and said “okay just wanted to check to be safe. I go by they/them so don’t be a jerk about it.” They smiled after this and gave no signs whatsoever of being upset or uncomfortable. When they said “don’t be a jerk about it” I thought they were just saying in general like in the future or something, I had no clue that I had upset them and I had no intention to do so whatsoever.
After the first match, a group of judges approached the match area and began speaking with Schemanske, telling Tran to keep his headphones on so he couldn’t overhear the conversation.
[O]ne of the judges puts a headset on and asks me. “Makani, what was said to the judge when they asked for your pronouns?” This is where I began to get a bit worried and wondered if I had done something wrong. I answered the question and said “I said he/him”. The judge then asks me if there was anything else I said and they wanted to know what my tone was during the conversation. They said this very important that I answered this truthfully. I said the only possible thing I might’ve done that could’ve been taken the wrong way was when I laughed a bit and I told them that I was just nervous. The judge then told me to walk off the stage and talk off stage. I was still confused during this and even more confused when I see two more players walking on stage to take Alex and my spots… I walk behind the curtains by the stage and the head judge… asks me what exactly was said. I explained what happened and that the nervous laugh was because I was embarrassed and because of what went down at [B]altimore. During this I was very polite and calm I made sure to clearly get my point across and made it extremely clear that I had no intention whatsoever of harming or upsetting anyone... The head judge seemed to understand so I was a bit relieved but then he pulls out the rule book on his phone and says that due to me violating their inclusive policy and due to me making someone feel unsafe and uncomfortable, I was disqualified from the event…
This is where it really escalated. The head judge tells me that he was sorry and that it sucked but I was disqualified due to pokemons policy. At this point I’m at the verge of tears but I tried my best to keep my composure. I just couldn’t understand what was happening. Was the judge just not listening to anything I had just told him? Was he trying to look at my side of the story at all? One last time I ask if I can appeal and if there’s anything I could do. I asked to talk to another judge or to the judge that I had upset but all of my requests were refused. The head judge then tells me that it was already done and they had disqualified me. I ask “So you’ve already disqualified me even though I just told you what happened?” and he said “Yes, I know this sucks for everyone involved and I’m sorry we have to do this.”
Soon after the exchange, the judges informed Tran he was no longer allowed inside the venue. Tran — a minor — told them he didn’t have cell phone service, had no way to contact anyone, and didn’t have the key to his hotel room. Regardless, a staff member escorted him out of the venue and cut off his wristbands.
At a previous tournament in Baltimore, Tran says that he felt “embarrassed… a bit” that the commentators referred to him as they/them, because those aren’t his pronouns. But he has “ZERO issue with peoples pronouns and how they choose to identify and express themselves,” he wrote in his post.
Tran also wrote that in the years previous to the tournament, he was “extremely suicidal and depressed,” but was “finally starting to feel better.”
“The way I was treated made me feel so upset and treated so unfairly that I was nearly running into the middle of the road and getting ran over. I wanted it all to be over I was just done with everything there was no point of anything for me. My dream of winning a regional with my own deck with my deck I had put so much time and work into, was just taken from me.”
After Tran posted his account of the disqualification, there was an outpouring of support for him on Twitter, and his friend started a GoFundMe to help Tran recoup the expenses associated with room and board for the tournament.
Other voices defended the judges involved in the disqualification.
Will Post, one of the head judges at the tournament, said “Whether you agree/disagree with a ruling, a Pokémon judge should not have to worry about people coming to workplace over a call they were involved with at a Pokémon tournament. If you think doxing people over judge calls is the right play, go home and rethink your life.”
When asked for comment about the incident, Post replied “I won’t be taking any questions.” Bobby Clark, another head judge, was also not available for comment.
Schemankse, Tran’s opponent, told us “There’s nothing I know that isn’t already public and I was uninvolved beyond being his opponent when it happened.” Yesterday he tweeted that he didn’t think Makani should have been disqualified, and appears to have donated to his GoFundMe.
We reached out to Tran for comment via Twitter and didn’t receive a response, but he did tweet today that he does not want this incident to be used to “bully and harass the trans community.”
Previous to the tournament, the organizers issued a player announcement stating that “Pokemon Company International is committed… to fostering an environment that is inclusive to all participants regardless of factors including but not limited to age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and/or disability.”
-Nick Russo and River Page