A Minnesota court has ruled that USA Powerlifting (USAPL) discriminated against powerlifter JayCee Cooper when it banned her from competing in the women’s division. The Ramsey County District Court has determined that USAPL must “cease and desist from the unfair discriminatory practice” of barring trans women from competing with other women.
Cooper, a trans woman, filed the lawsuit against USAPL in 2021 for violations of the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). In Jan. 2019, USAPL’s “Transgender Participation Policy” (TPP) explicitly banned trans athletes from competing against their cisgender peers.
In a 46-page ruling, the Ramsey County District Court found that “USAPL’s policy articulates nothing but discrimination based on protected status.” The court directed USAPL to revise its transgender participation policy within 14 days of the ruling.
[Related: IATBP Is Transforming Powerlifting and Bodybuilding for Trans and Nonbinary Lifters]
History of Cooper Vs. USAPL
Before the 2019 Minnesota Women’s State Championship, Cooper received an email from USAPL that said she was ineligible to compete in the women’s division because she is trans. The Minnesota-based powerlifter subsequently filed a discrimination claim with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.
The claim alleged that by banning Cooper and other trans athletes from competing with their cisgender peers, USAPL was in violation of the state’s Human Rights Act.
In 2021, the Minnesota-based advocacy group Gender Justice took this claim to the state court. The court has upheld Cooper’s claim, ruling that USAPL’s policies regarding trans participation are discriminatory.
[Related: Watch VICE’s Documentary About the Struggles of Transgender Powerlifters]
Though USAPL’s TPP stated that trans participation in powerlifting “compromises fair play,” the court took issue with that contention. “The court understands USAPL to be using fairness to describe what they believe to be competitive advantage.” The ruling went on to state:
“Yet, the USAPL’s evidence of competitive advantage does not take into account any competitive disadvantage a transgender athlete might face from, for example, increased risk of depression and suicide, lack of access to coaching and practice facilities, or other performance suppression common to transgender persons.”
The court further noted that sports like powerlifting confer unique benefits on participants. These range from greater levels of physical fitness to “increasing feelings of acceptance and well-being.”
Trans Participation in Powerlifting
USAPL was given 14 days “to submit a revised policy with respect to transgender participation.” This revised policy must comply with the Minnesota Human Rights Act. This law states that places of public accommodations and businesses can’t deny full participation to people based on their sex or sexual orientation.
In a statement released on Gender Justice’s website, Cooper expressed relief that the ruling recognized the “full dignity and humanity” of trans people.
Trans athletes across the country deserve the same rights and protections as everyone else, and we deserve equitable opportunities to compete in the sports we love.
BarBend will continue to keep readers updated regarding any changes to USAPL’s participation policies.
Featured Image: @riahgoeshamm via @jayceeisalive on Instagram