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Explainer: What the Boston Marathon’s decision to add option for nonbinary participants means

Marathoners make their way down Boylston Street near the conclusion of April's race.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

For the first time, the Boston Marathon is offering qualifying participants the option to register as nonbinary for next April’s race. The qualification window for 2023 closes on Friday.

The term nonbinary refers to one’s gender identity or expression. When a person’s identity or expression falls outside the binary categories of man or woman, that person might identify as nonbinary.

Boston will join other notable US marathons, such as those in New York and Chicago, in offering the nonbinary gender identity for participants when they register.

How will this affect runners qualifying in the future? What went into the Boston Athletic Association’s decision?

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We have a few answers to questions about the development.

How is gender relevant to Boston Marathon qualifying?

Just as athletes have to indicate their age group when they register, they also have to check off gender.

Up until this year’s Boston Marathon registration period, nonbinary participants have had to misgender themselves by choosing “male” or “female” to submit their times.

So this will not be the first Boston Marathon with nonbinary participants?

It most certainly will not — just the first where a nonbinary participant can register with how they identify themselves.

Will nonbinary Boston Marathoners be running in their own division?

No. The BAA, which administers the Boston Marathon, considers the group to be part of a category or designation — similar to age groups and male and female groups.

Nonbinary participants will be listed as such in prerace entrants lists, on race day. and in tracking, among other spaces.

How do nonbinary runners qualify for the Boston Marathon?

Like everyone else, a nonbinary athlete still needs to run a qualifying time that meets the cutoffs in their age groups.

Qualifying for the Boston Marathon remains a sizable challenge.Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

But cutoff times also differ by gender. The BAA has chosen the women’s qualifying times as the nonbinary standard.

Why the women’s times?

Because the BAA, along with every other major marathon, has not yet set qualifying times for nonbinary athletes.

Part of that, the BAA says, is because there is not enough data yet to establish those times. In order to be the most inclusive, the women’s qualifying times, slower than the men’s, were chosen.

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Does that mean nonbinary marathoners will take spots away from other marathoners?

No. Demand exceeds supply of spots in the field every year. Qualifying runners of every gender do not always get in.

Are nonbinary marathon registrants submitting qualifying times they ran under a nonbinary designation?

As of Tuesday, the BAA had received 14 nonbinary registrations for next April’s race, which will have a field of around 30,000. Their qualifying times came mostly from marathons in which runners had to misgender themselves because nonbinary registration was not an option.

How is the BAA verifying nonbinary registrants?

Through direct outreach to each athlete.

What prompted the BAA to make the change to include the nonbinary designation?

The BAA wants to be more inclusive.

The goal is to make the Boston Marathon more inclusive.Omar Rawlings/Getty

“We had inquiries because some other events around the country had started to have the ability to register as nonbinary — like in San Francisco, some races in New York — and it was becoming an aspect of the sport with inclusion that the industry was adopting, and so we were close followers of that,” explained Jack Fleming, acting CEO of the BAA.

Who is the BAA consulting with on the topic?

Besides organizers of other leading marathons, the BAA has also spoken with nonbinary marathoners who wanted to participate in Boston as nonbinary athletes. Some of those athletes are advocates within the sport, trying to get more nonbinary opportunities at events.

Do the other top marathons have nonbinary registration?

New York, Chicago, and London — all part of the World Marathon Majors — do. In addition to male and female, Berlin has a third “diverse” option, said Fleming.

According to The 19th, marathons in Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Colorado Springs, and Flagstaff, Ariz., also offer nonbinary registration.

The New York City Marathon is one of several other marathons that has nonbinary registration.BENJAMIN NORMAN/NYT

If a nonbinary participant won the Boston Marathon, how would the BAA handle that?

This is almost a trick question.

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The invitational professional field of elite runners who run the Boston Marathon is composed of runners who list their gender as male or female. That’s per World Athletics federation rules, said Fleming.

An athlete who identifies as nonbinary could win the race, but prize money and awards are given based on male and female designations.

Has the BAA tried this before?

It did for its virtual races last year during the pandemic. There were 56 nonbinary participants in that virtual marathon, with 42 finishing the race.

This year, it had 11 nonbinary athletes for its 5K race, 10 for its 10K, and 14 are signed up for the half-marathon in November.

Does the BAA view itself as trying to effect change with its new registration setup for nonbinary marathoners?

“We saw that we could be more inclusive,” said Fleming. “Let’s just say, the Boston Globe is calling the BAA right now, asking about and reporting on our addition to have nonbinary identification — that’s because of the Boston Marathon’s profile. Naturally, our sport looks at what Boston and others do. And if that is in fact leadership in the area, then that’s great.”


Michael Silverman can be reached at michael.silverman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeSilvermanBB.