Trans Skateboarder Leo Baker Quit the Olympics — Now He's Changing the Sport
As a teen and as a young adult, Leo Baker was a rising star in the competitive skateboarding scene — a gritty, down-to-earth sport that had long been excluded from more traditional landscapes such as the Olympics. When skateboarding was introduced during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, reactions from the skate community were mixed, but many professionals and fans of the sport saw the move as a chance to bring skateboarding to the world stage.
It was no surprise that Baker qualified for the Olympics after winning the Street League Super Crown in 2016 and a string of other international skating competitions. But the Olympics is organized by sex assigned at birth, not gender identity — and there's currently no option for nonbinary or genderqueer athletes to compete. By 19, Baker knew he was trans, but at 28 he'd qualified for the women's Olympic team.
The Olympics have a very regressive stance on trans athletes. In 1968, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) mandated "gender verification" for female athletes, which, in its early years, included visual observation and gynecological examination before turning to "less invasive" genetic testing. The policy, which was introduced to prevent men from using their apparent physical advantage in women's sports, ended in 1999 — but not really. Athletes like Indian sprinter Dutee Chand and South African runner Caster Semenya have been forced to undergo testing since then, and trans athletes have long called for updates to the IOC's policies.
The discriminatory history of competitive sports left Baker with a choice: to compete or bow out. Baker decided to quit the Olympics. What happened next is the subject of the new documentary "Stay on Board: The Leo Baker Story," which premiered at film festival Outfest in July before arriving on Netflix on August 11.
"I am happier than I've ever been in my life, beyond what I could have ever even imagined," Baker told Rolling Stone in an interview. He added, "Purging all the stuff that was not working for me, like quitting the Olympics and getting rid of all this stuff that was not 'it,' created a clearing for things that are it or could be it."
The documentary shows Baker, now 30, doing what he loves on his own terms. In addition to landing a sponsorship with Nike, Baker cofounded the queer skate company Glue Skateboards with fellow skater Stephen Ostrowski.
"We take our team on trips and do things that we were never able to do because there was not space for trans queer people to be in skating in that way," Baker told Rolling Stone. "We're living our childhood dreams of going on skate trips, filming, hanging out with our team and being around people that are queer or are down for us."
But getting the film right was a process. After getting feedback during an early screening process, directors Nicola Marsh and Giovanni Reda realized they needed help to properly tell Baker's story. Both cisgender, the directors invited GLAAD Director of Transgender Representation Alex Schmider onto the project to be sure they were depicting the story with dignity. He eventually joined as an executive producer.
"Whatever the stakes or expectations, no matter how high or set, Leo shows it's never too late to be yourself and define the terms for your life."
"Credit to Nicola and Reda, who, when made aware of the film's limitations, knew to engage with a filmmaker from the trans community to help tell Leo's story with authenticity," Schmider tells POPSUGAR. "This kind of collaboration can only succeed when everyone is willing to trust each other, be open to feedback, and move with intention and accountability toward a shared vision, which Nicola and Reda did with a genuine desire to tell Leo's story with the deepest respect for the communities he's a part."
Schmider continued: "Many stories about trans people miss that the most compelling parts of our lives aren't necessarily about our gender but rather the individual ways we move through the world as ourselves. So when telling stories about trans people, the goal for me is for audiences to get to know and see the full person; in this case, Leo, in his multidimensionality."
To Schmider, Baker's story is about courage, and the guts it takes to pursue a life truly aligned with who you are. "Whatever the stakes or expectations, no matter how high or set, Leo shows it's never too late to be yourself and define the terms for your life."
You can now stream "Stay on Board: The Leo Baker Story" on Netflix.