USA Powerlifting ( USAPL ), the national affiliate of the International Powerlifting Federation ( IPF ), recently barred transgender Minnesotan powerlifter JayCee Cooper from competing at a state championship due to her gender identity.
Known for its strict drug testing policies that prohibit performance-enhancing drug use, IPF has adopted the International Olympics Committee's ( IOC ) guidelines on participation of transgender athletes, however, this recent move by USAPL to bar Cooper belies these guidelines.
This has prompted an outcry among other powerlifters across the country and a letter from U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar ( D-Minnesota ) to USAPL Executive Director Priscilla Ribic and President Larry Maile.
Omar's letter, in part, reads, "I am writing to express my concern over a recent decision by USA Powerlifting to bar participation by my constituent, Ms. JayCee Cooper, because she is transgender. 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."
The letter also states that Omar is calling on USAPL to follow the IOC stance on transgender athletes. The IOC determined in November 2015 at its "IOC Consensus Meeting on Sex Reassignment and Hyperandrogenism" that transgender athletes are able to compete based on how they identify.
Omar has forwarded this incident to Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison with a recommendation that his office investigate this matter.
According to USAPL's transgender participation policy, which was recently added to the organization's website on a dedicated page, it states that transgender athletes who use any androgens ( testosterone ) are barred from competition.
However, the IOC guidelines, which the IPF adopted in a 2018 General Assembly meeting provides a blueprint for inclusion of transgender athletes, both male and female, and specific guidelines for acceptable testosterone levels.
In a response letter to Movement Minneapolis' powerlifting team, USAPL placed the blame at the international level, stating "USA Powerlifting does not possess the authority to alter the IPF's position on transgender athletes."
Contradicting that position, IPF President Gaston Parage stated in an email, "This case is a national matter and you need solve this with the USAPL. Also, if you think you need blame someone then you should blame those with whom you have a problem. The IPF is not there to solve always the problems from the National Federations."
Movement Minneapolis Owner David Dellanavewhose team recently protested alongside allies from Solcana Fitness at the USAPL Minnesota State Championshipwrote the original letter to USAPL demanding changes in the rules to comply with the IOC's spirit and intent to include transgender athletes.
Dellanave said, "Clearly, this contradiction between the national and international sporting bodies blaming each other shows that this is not a question of rulesit is a question of desire to include or exclude transgender athletes."
Cooper, who was also at the protest, told Windy City Times, "What trans, non-binary and intersex athletes are capable of achievingdespite the plethora of advantages cisgender people have in navigating and accessing resources in society and sportshould not be feared but celebrated fiercely. That conversation starts now."
"I am boycotting USAPL because I cannot participate in an organization that bans trans people," said Cooper's teammate and Solcana Fitness powerlifter Elizabeth Wrigley-Field. "I am furious that USAPL's excuse for bigotry is 'fairness for female athletes.' Banning trans lifters is obviously unfair to women like my teammate JayCee. But it is also insidious in a subtler way for cisgender women who lift, like me.
"Powerlifting empowers us because it frees us from stifling ideas about what women are likesmall, fragile and decorative. Lifting lets us be strong, and take up space, and value our bodies for what they can do, not how they look. Imposing some committee's idea about who counts as a real woman takes all of that away from us. The athletes organizing against the trans ban are overwhelmingly women. One man, USAPL President Larry Maile's, idea about what is fair for women does not speak for us."
"USAPL is an organization that prides itself on being 'inclusive,' yet recently issued a written policy that bans the participation of transgender athletes," said USAPL athlete and Illinois state official Liz Thompson. "Despite guidance from the IOC and IPF that permits transgender athletes to compete, USAPL bans their participation to achieve 'fairness for female athletes,' a decision that is bigoted and is not evidence-based.
"As a cisgender woman and USAPL athlete and state official, I strongly believe that transgender athletes belong in this sport and would be honored to share the lifting platform with them in competitions. I, among many others, plan to forfeit my USAPL membership if the organization refuses to adopt a truly fair, inclusive policy for the participation of transgender athletes."
"As Pull for Pride, Women's Strength Coalition co-director and policy drafting committee member, which is composed of various USAPL member, it is our goal to draft a trans inclusive and affirmative policy to replace the current USAPL policy banning transgender people from competing in the federation," said Breanna Diaz. "The current ban is not only a gross misrepresentation of the IOC consensus guidelines, but is predicated on outdated, false science and myth under the guise of ensuring 'fair play.' It is our hope that the USAPL Executive Committee will repeal the existing band and replace it with a policy based on science that we, LGBTQ+ and ally lifters, create."
"Based on the way this situation has been handled by the USAPL, it is clear that they are not concerned with a 'fair platform,'" said Chicago's Rockwell Barbell Personal Trainer and powerlifter and Pull for Pride, Chicago Meet Director Kayla Anderson. "The guidelines for trans and intersex athletes are clear at higher levels of international competition—powerlifting and otherwise. What about assigned female at birth ( AFAB ) folks with polycystic ovary syndrome or other conditions that affect hormone levels. These athletes are not barred from sharing the platform with other AFAB/female lifters. The USAPL's stance is not about fairness. This is about justifying their discrimination and an unwillingness to accept scientific facts."
"While many folks fall under the USAPL tree, the reality is, much of our beliefs are not reflected in their policies," said USAPL athlete Adrienne Thomas. "Decisions made by those in power must reflect its members. As of now, there is a focus on the rule change that will be proposed at the upcoming National Governing Body meeting in May. In the meantime, members at all levels, are doing different things to rally and show support, because at the local and individual level the community is at its best."
When Windy City Times contacted Ribic, Maile and USAPL Illinois State Chair Chris Thacker for comment; they did not respond to queries about this policy, Omar's letter and/or the growing outcry by other USAPL members.