Trans powerlifter JayCee Cooper has won a discrimination lawsuit against USA Powerlifting (USAPL) for violating her civil rights when the organisation banned her from participating in women’s competitions. The judge ruled that the federation was in breach of the Minnesota Human Rights Act with its efforts to prevent trans competitors from participating in events.
In January 2019, USA Powerlifting informed athlete JayCee Cooper that she was forbidden from competing in the female category because she is a trans woman. According to the federation, “transgender women are allowed to compete in the division reflecting their birth”, meaning that she would only be allowed to participate in the category corresponding to the sex she was assigned at birth. Her competition card was also revoked, preventing her from participating in any of the USAPL events.
USA Powerlifting argued that their policy was meant to ensure fairness in the competition and that trans women have a “direct competitive advantage” over cis women due to such things as “increased body and muscle mass, bone density, bone structure, and connective tissue”. However, medical research has found no conclusive scientific evidence that trans athletes have an advantage over their cisgender counterparts in competitive sports.
Following the federation’s decision, with the help of attorneys from LGBTQ+ organisation Gender Justice, Cooper filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Later in 2021, she launched a lawsuit against USAPL, saying that its policy violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which explicitly prohibits gender identity discrimination.
As a lifelong girls/women’s sports participant, as a queer Minnesotan, as a lawyer who is in absolute awe of all my clients all the time, I am so freaking proud to be part of this fantastic ruling for @jayceeisalive and for trans inclusion in women’s sports in MN! https://t.co/wRzonStoJr
— Jess Braverman (@Jess_Braverman) February 28, 2023
On Monday, February 27, the Ramsey County District Court ruled in Cooper’s favour, stating that USA Powerlifting had failed to uphold certain responsibilities and thus discriminated against trans athletes. As Judge Patrick Diamond wrote in the decision, “By denying Cooper the right to participate in the female category, the category consistent with her self-identification, USAPL denied her the full and equal enjoyment of the services, support, and facilities USAPL offered its members.
“It separated Cooper and segregated her and, in doing so, failed to fully perform the contractual obligations it agreed to when it accepted Cooper’s money and issued Cooper a membership card,” the ruling also stated. It further explained that USAPL had an “extraordinarily narrow view of ‘fairness’ for an organization allegedly seeking broad membership and promotion of powerlifting as a beneficial activity, including at the non-elite level.”
"Marsha P. Johnson, and the Stonewall riots, and the plethora of Black trans advocates and activists throughout history—and the way they've led this fight—I am just one small piece that is built off of that," says @JayCeeIsAlive ? https://t.co/tGT4A9112Y
— Gender Justice (@GenderJustice) March 1, 2023
As a result of this decision, USA Powerlifting has now been ordered to repeal its ban against trans women in the female category and to submit a revised policy within 14 days. Moreover, possible damages due to Cooper will be discussed at a hearing scheduled for May 1.
JayCee Cooper welcomed this win, commenting to OutSports: “I fought as hard as I could to ensure that every trans athlete has the opportunity to compete, and be recognized with full dignity and humanity”. She continued, “I am thrilled that this ruling recognizes our rights and our humanity and hopefully opens doors for transgender athletes everywhere to participate fully in sports.”
Her attorney, David Schlesinger, also noted the potential future impact of this ruling, saying: “After today’s ruling, we are one step closer to making sure trans athletes like JayCee, and trans people everywhere in Minnesota, can pursue their dreams and goals without experiencing discrimination simply for being who they are”.
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