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Transgender Athlete Sues USA Powerlifting After Being Banned From Competing

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A transgender powerlifter, JayCee Cooper, is suing USA Powerlifting after it barred her from competition on the basis of her gender identity.

Cooper said at a news conference on Tuesday, “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. I was gutted. I had been training for months and up until that point had experienced so much love and community around the sport.”

Cooper’s lawsuit, which was filed in Minnesota state court by the Minnesota-based advocacy group Gender Justice on Tuesday, declares that in banning Cooper and other trans athletes, USA Powerlifting is in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The lawsuit also mentions that other powerlifting and athletic organizations have measures that allow transgender women to participate.

The International Olympic Committee implemented 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 adopted the IOC’s guidelines, but the international group doesn’t mandate that its national affiliates follow them. It’s also stated in the lawsuit that Cooper was rejected from competing even though she provided documentation that her testosterone levels had remained under the IOC’s’ accepted limit for two years. The lawsuit says, “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. USAPL discriminated against JayCee Cooper, and continues to do so, because she is a transgender woman.”

USA Powerlifting said in a statement emailed to NBC News on Wednesday, that 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 didn’t have established guidelines about transgender athletes until January 2019, which is around the same time it notified Cooper that she couldn’t compete. The organization’s Transgender Participation Policy states, “USA Powerlifting is not a fit for every athlete and for every medical condition or situation. 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.” In a section about trans women’s inability to complete it says, “Men naturally have a larger bone structure, higher bone density, stronger connective tissue and higher muscle density than women. 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 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that was published last month found that transgender women maintain an athletic advantage over their cisgender peers even after a year on hormone therapy. However, after two years, transgender women were “fairly equivalent to the cisgender women.” The findings were based on physical assessments of transgender military service members, not competitive athletes.

Cooper’s story drew national attention on January 19 after she posted about it on her Instagram, drawing support from fellow powerlifters, some of who slammed USA Powerlifting’s policy as “discriminatory” and “unscientific.”

Cooper said that she began lifting in 2018 and said training her body for the sport empowered her in ways she couldn’t previously have imagined. She stated, “As a trans person, this took on additional meaning because our bodies are so politicized and demonized regularly.” Several professional athletes expressed their support for Cooper, including a former soccer player for the U.S. Women’s National Team and members of the Minnesota Vikings football team.

Cooper said she hopes her lawsuit will help open doors for other transgender athletes saying, “I grew up pursuing Olympic dreams, and that was taken away from me in the sport of powerlifting," Cooper said. "I don't want anyone to experience what I and other trans athletes have and continue to experience.”

Source: NBC News