Editor’s note: In a previous version of this article, one instance of “USA Powerlifting” was mistakenly written as “USA Weightlifting.” We apologize for the error.
In January, USA Powerlifting posted on their website a “Transgender Participation Policy” which stated that the inclusion of transgender athletes, be they male to female or female to male, “compromises fair play.”
One transgender female powerlifter, Jaycee Cooper, has been at the forefront of the controversy after she was denied the chance to compete in Minnesota at her first sanctioned USAPL meet. Some media outlets have suspected that USAPL’s ban was in response to Cooper, because the same week she was told she was ineligible to compete, USAPL announced the ban.
Cooper had thoroughly checked USAPL’s rulebook upon entering the meet, but was told a month before the competition that she wouldn’t be competing. This week, VICE published a documentary that covers Cooper’s story and follows the journey of trans athletes fighting back.
In the film, Cooper speaks about how she felt when she found out she couldn’t participate in the meet.
“Disappointment,” she says at 1:50 into the video, “And also not being surprised entirely by the way that trans women and trans feminine people are treated in sports.”
In February, at USA Powerlifting’s Minnesota State Championships, the meet Cooper wasn’t allowed to lift in, members of powerlifting gym The Movement Minneapolis went 0 for 9. They stood on the platform and didn’t execute their lifts in protest of the USAPL’s policy on transgender athletes.
When asked in the documentary if she thinks she should be able to compete, Cooper confidently responds, “Absolutely” at 2:03. “Why not? I followed all of the rules leading up to competing, and my own beliefs aside that should be enough.”
The documentary also features bioethicist Katrina Karkaziz, who works on testosterone and sex testing regulations on sports.
People want to make these broad generalizations, (like) trans women have an advantage, but its always going to be much more complicated than that (…) (Testosterone) is not necessary or sufficient to push an athlete to be at the top level, so you can’t assume that the people with the highest levels of testosterone do better.
[Learn more about transgender powerlifting with a guide to inclusive federations]
USAPL’s Maryland State Chair, Michael Sichelman, says in the video that, “It’s a fair play issue based on our principles that have been long standing with regard to drug use. Anything more than that I can’t say, it’s not up to me to say.”
“We deserve a place in sports too,” Cooper says at the video’s conclusion. “In the fundamental principles of Olympism they recognize that sport is a human right. Do trans people get human rights? The answer is yes.”
Feature image from Vice News YouTube channel.