Story at a glance

  • USA Powerlifting does not allow transgender women to compete.
  • Advocates for transgender athletes are challenging the policy in court as a violation of anti-discrimination laws.
  • Transgender athletes’ right to participate in gender-divided sports remain restricted in the United States.

A transgender athlete is taking USA Powerlifting (USAPL) to court after she was denied the right to compete because of her gender.  

“I don't want anyone to experience what I and other trans athletes have and continue to experience. Having our basic human dignity questioned and opportunities denied because we are trans. We all benefit when sports are as inclusive as possible, when we organize around our shared humanity and collective empowerment. I believe in the power of sports to bring people together and build strong communities. Women should be able to participate and succeed at every level — including trans women," said JayCee Cooper, powerlifter and co-director of Pull for Pride, in a video conference. 


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After mediation failed, Gender Justice and co-counsel Nichols Kaster filed a complaint Monday on Cooper's behalf against USA Powerlifting for violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, one of the strongest such laws in the country. The law expressly bans discrimination against transgender people, the first state-level anti-discrimination law in the country to include "sexual orientation" as a protected class, which is broadly interpreted to include transgender Americans. 

“Trans women belong in women’s sports, and their right to compete is supported by the International Olympic Committee, the International Powerlifting Federation’s Executive Committee, as well as federal and Minnesota state law,” Jess Braverman, legal director at Gender Justice, said in a statement. “USA Powerlifting’s ban on transgender athletes is not only illegal, it’s also rooted in outdated gender stereotypes that harm all women athletes. Gender Justice will always work to make sure sports teams and federations live up to their values of equity and inclusion by fighting for trans athletes’ right to belong.” 

While the transgender community has made strides in representation, hate crimes and killings have soared. Trans women’s right to participate in sports that are separated by gender have been restricted both in the United States and internationally, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which permits participation if athletes meet certain criteria. While powerlifting isn't an Olympic sport, the World Games follows IOC rules and is the highest level of powerlifting competition, according to the complaint, which argues that “an American who is banned from competing through her national governing body is effectively banned from elite international competition.”


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A former junior national champion in curling, Cooper grew up competing in sports, but stopped due to the gender dysphoria triggered by competing in men’s leagues. After overcoming her dysphoria with the help of prescribed medications, she sought to return to the sport, believing that she met the IOC regulations. 

"Powerlifting is a sport of empowerment pushing through adversity and seeing what our bodies can do. As a trans person this took on additional meaning because our bodies are so politicized and demonized regularly," she said. 

When she applied for a therapeutic use exemption with letters from her doctor and therapist, USAPL told her she was ineligible to compete because "[m]ale-to- female transgenders are not allowed to compete as females in our static strength sport as it is a direct competitive advantage,” according to the complaint. On its website, USAPL says it has not banned transgender athletes, allowing transgender men, but not transgender women. 

In an emailed statement, the organization said, "USA Powerlifting 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. No further statements will be made while this is going through legal proceedings."

Some athletes shared pre-recorded testimonials in support of Cooper, while others spoke out on social media. 


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Published on Jan 12, 2021