Minnesota group sues USA Powerlifting for banning trans athlete

"I’m going to fight as hard as I can with Gender Justice to ensure that every trans athlete has the opportunity to compete."

JayCee Cooper (Gender Justice/Facebook).

Gender Justice, a Minnesota-based gender equality organization, is fighting alongside a transgender athlete in a Ramsey County lawsuit against USA Powerlifting.

JayCee Cooper, a transgender powerlifting athlete from Minneapolis, is suing USA Powerlifting and USA Powerlifting Minnesota, with the help of Gender Justice and attorney Nicholas Kaster.

The lawsuit, dated January of this year, claims that Cooper, a biological male, was banned from competing in USA Powerlifting’s Minnesota State Bench Press Championship in January 2019, and the Minnesota Women’s State Championship in February 2019. 

“USAPL MN then went on to hold both championship events, at which all transgender women athletes were prohibited from competing,” states the lawsuit. 

USA Powerlifting then created a formal policy barring transgender athletes from competing in events, the lawsuit claims. 

“At the time of its decision, USAPL had no express policy regarding participation in
competition by transgender athletes. After informing Ms. Cooper that she would not be
allowed to compete because she is transgender and revoking her competition card, USAPL
issued a formal policy categorically banning all transgender women from participating in
USAPL competitions,” the lawsuit explains. 

In June 2019, Gender Justice filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which claimed that USA Powerlifting illegally discriminated against Cooper in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act. 

At the time, USA Powerlifting said it was “inaccurate” to describe its policy as a ban on transgender athletes. 

“Our rules state that divisions are based on sex, and that analysis of scientific data reflects the inherent differences in strength in powerlifting, between biological males (XY) and biological females (XX). This difference is so significant that reduction of androgens does not, and cannot overcome these differences,” the organization said in a 2019 statement.

“To allow those born and who went through puberty as males to compete as females would be inherently discriminatory against a federally protected class: women. Further, allowing transgender males to use androgens when no other category of athlete is allowed them represents an unfair advantage and [is] against the founding principles of USA Powerlifting. Accordingly, transgender women are allowed to compete in the division reflecting their birth, and transgender men may compete without androgens,” the statement continued. 

Cooper said trans athletes “deserve the same rights and protections as everyone else” as well as “equitable opportunities to compete in the sports we love.”

“I jumped through every hoop, cleared every hurdle to be able to compete with USA Powerlifting, but was met with a retroactive ban on trans athletes. I’m going to fight as hard as I can with Gender Justice to ensure that every trans athlete has the opportunity to compete, and to be recognized with full dignity and humanity,” Cooper said in a press release

Gender Justice Advocacy Director and former state Rep. Erin Maye-Quade commented on the lawsuit.

“Let’s be clear: The same anti-trans activists who created the hateful debate about transgender people’s access to bathrooms are now attacking trans people in the context of sports. Everyone knows, there are a myriad of factors that help determine someone’s success in competition,” Maye-Quade wrote on Twitter.

The demands of the lawsuit include:

  • The alleged discrimination against Cooper be declared a human rights violation
  • The defendants pay Cooper damages worth at least $50,000
  • The defendants pay a “civil penalty” to the state of Minnesota
  • A permanent injunction be issued banning the defendants from discriminating against transgender athletes

“We know women’s sports are stronger when they prioritize gender equity and inclusion, but we have a lot of work ahead of us to make sure women’s sports are safe and supportive places for all women, including trans women,” Gender Justice said in a release.