Minnesota nonprofit sues USA Powerlifting for discriminating against transgender athletes

Gender Justice, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that advocates for gender equity, is suing USA Powerlifting for allegedly discriminating against transgender athletes. 

Gender Justice and co-counsel Nicholas Kaster filed a lawsuit against USAPL and its Minnesota chapter Tuesday, accusing the organizations of violating the Minnesota Human Rights Act when it banned JayCee Cooper, a 33-year-old transgender woman from Minneapolis, and all other trans athletes from competing. 

According to the lawsuit, USAPL denied Cooper from competing in the Minnesota State Bench Press Championships in January 2019 because she is transgender and revoked her competition card, making her ineligible to compete in future USAPL events. 

"I was gutted," Cooper said at a news conference on Tuesday. "I had been training for months. Up until that point, I had experienced so much love and community around the sport, so it was very disappointing to see that I had no more access forward."

The lawsuit says USAPL then went on to issue a formal policy "categorically banning all transgender women from participating in USAPL activities." 

The policy is an outlier among international, national, and local sports organizations, many of which have recently adopted more inclusive policies when it comes to trans athletes, according to the lawsuit. Erin Maye-Quade, a former Minnesota lawmaker and current advocacy director for Gender Justice, said USAPL’s policy banning trans athletes from competing is "creating problems where there are none." 

"Enacting transphobic policies in athletics not only harms trans athletes and moves us in the wrong direction, it hurts women’s sports as a whole by distracting us from the very real actual threats to women’s sports: racism, pay inequity, sexual abuse and the lack of athletic opportunity in schools just to name a few," Maye-Quade said. 

In 2019, Cooper filed a charge of discrimination against USAPL and its Minnesota chapter with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. During the MDHR’s investigation into the complaint, the organizations held several competitions in Minnesota with the policy in place that prohibited transgender women like Cooper from participating in the women’s competition, the lawsuit says.

Last month, USAPL announced a new category of competition for "any and all athletes no matter how they identify", according to its website. However, the lawsuit alleges it is a "separate and unequal division" and does not provide a path for international competition. 

"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," Cooper said of her decision to move ahead with a lawsuit. "We all benefit when sports are as inclusive as possible."