Imagine finding and falling in love with a sport that makes you feel healthy, strong and empowered. Now imagine being banned from competing, not because you did anything wrong, but because of who you are.
That's exactly what happened to JayCee Cooper, a Minnesota woman who applied to compete in a USA Powerlifting competition. Last December, she was told via email that she could not compete becaues she is a trans woman. The organization quickly posted a policy to its website that excludes all trans athletes, not just Cooper.
In response to this discriminatory policy declaration, fourteen cisgender powerlifters who had already signed up to compete in the competition did something - or rather, they did nothing. Each of them took the platform when it was their turn, and then didn't lift anything, not even a finger.
The announcer refused to state their names, but it's getting harder and harder to be a bigot these days: the allies' actions were thoroughly captured on social media.
One of the protesters, Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, stood by Cooper, writing an eloquent piece on why she was boycotting USA Powerlifting until they change their discriminatory policy.
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn) also lent her voice to the outcry, writing a letter directly to the organization's president as well as executive director, which laid out in no uncertain terms the truth of the matter:
Under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, discrimination against anyone based on their gender identity is illegal. This includes in public accommodations, and in Minnesota, organizations such as USA Powerlifting. In fact, just last month a Minnesota jury awarded Ms. Christina Ginther $20,000 after the Independent Women’s Football League refused to allow her to participate because she is transgender.
I urge you to reconsider this discriminatory, unscientific policy and follow the example of the International Olympic Committee. The myth that trans women have a “direct competitive advantage” is not supported by medical science, and it continues to stoke fear and violence against one of the most at-risk communities in the world.
While I do not have direct jurisdiction over this matter as a U.S. congresswoman, I’m sending this letter to Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison with a recommendation that he investigate this discriminatory behavior.
Back in 2003, the International Olympic Committee drafted guidelines for the inclusion of trans athletes in sports competitions, which were later refined in 2015. The refinement removed the necessity for surgical transition, focusing instead on testing hormone levels.
To date, USA Powerlifting has not changed their policy. In fact, before a competition in Ohio in February, they sent out an email newsletter calling the protesters "unsportsmanlike" and stating, "a powerlifting meet is not the place to protest political and social issues.”
When that powerlifting meet is excluding women from competing based on outdated standards rooted in myth and prejudice, I disagree.
about the author
Valerie Urso is a freelance writer and marketer living in Bakersfield, CA. They have been working as the volunteer Content Marketing Manager for The Center's blog since November 2018.
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