Transgender Athlete Sues USA Powerlifting for Not Allowing Him to Compete in Women’s Division

JayCee Cooper
Instagram/JayCee Cooper

A man who is now living as a transgender woman is suing the largest U.S.-based powerlifting organization for not allowing him to compete in the women’s division.

The Gender Justice group filed the lawsuit against USA Powerlifting on behalf of JayCee Cooper, citing that he is being discriminated against because of his “gender identity.”

“It came as a surprise to me that when I applied to compete at my first competition, I was told that I couldn’t compete specifically because I’m a trans woman,” Cooper said at a news conference earlier this week. “I was gutted. I had been training for months and up until that point had experienced so much love and community around the sport.”

The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in Minnesota state court. It claims that banning Copper violates the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

NBC Out reported on the lawsuit and its broader implications: 

The suit also notes that other powerlifting and athletic organizations — on the local, national and international levels — have measures that allow transgender women to participate.

The International Olympic Committee adopted guidelines in 2015 permitting trans women to compete if their testosterone remains below a certain level for at least 12 months. The International Powerlifting Federation, the parent organization of USA Powerlifting, adopted the IOC’s guidelines, but the international group doesn’t mandate that its national affiliates follow them.

Cooper’s lawsuit says she was rejected from competing even though she provided documentation that her testosterone levels had remained under the IOC’s accepted limit for two years.

“USAPL denied Ms. Cooper’s eligibility to compete because she is a transgender woman, withdrew her competition card because she is a transgender woman, and then went on to adopt a categorical ban on participation by transgender women athletes at USAPL competitions,” the lawsuit said. “USAPL discriminated against JayCee Cooper, and continues to do so, because she is a transgender woman.”

USA Powerlifting responded to NBC’s inquiry with a statement that said it “is aware of the public notice made on the Gender Justice website but are not in receipt of any formal filing at this time. We dispute the allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present the facts within the legal system.”

USA Powerlifting put their transgender policy in place in 2019 to provide “a level playing field” for women competing in the sport.

“USA Powerlifting is not a fit for every athlete and for every medical condition or situation,” the organization’s Transgender Participation Policy states. “Simply, not all powerlifters are eligible to compete in USA Powerlifting.”

The policy says USA Powerlifting is a “sports organization with rules and policies” that “apply to everyone to provide a level playing field.” 

The group described power lifting as a “sport of strength” rather than a “sport of skill.”

“Men naturally have a larger bone structure, higher bone density, stronger connective tissue and higher muscle density than women,” the statement said. “These traits, even with reduced levels of testosterone do not go away. While MTF [male-to-female] may be weaker and less muscle than they once were, the biological benefits given them at birth still remain over than of a female.”

“A study published last month in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that transgender women maintain an athletic advantage over their cisgender peers even after a year on hormone therapy,” NBC Out reported. “After two years, however, transgender women were ‘fairly equivalent to the cisgender women.’” 

NBC noted the study was conducted of military members and not athletes.

In an interesting side note, Cooper’s Instagram account includes news that USA Powerlifting has created a new category of competition that is open to both genders, but she dismissed the development:

Today, USA Powerlifting (USAPL) announced the creation of a new division, the MX division, described as a “dedicated competition space for athletes of all gender identities.” The division is USAPL’s desperate attempt to be seen as inclusive and affirming of transgender athletes. However, we know the true intent and impact of the division: separate and unequal participation for transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming (TNBGNC) athletes.

“I declared my gender for sporting purposes (There’s a big fat F on my member card, license, passport, etc.),” Cooper wrote on Instagram. “I submitted 5 test results spanning 2016 to present showing that my testosterone levels have been and continue to be significantly under the guidelines.”

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