Trans Athlete Fights For The Right To Compete

The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) is in a bit of a bind right now—thanks to a set of policies which some believe discriminate against transgender athletes. Golfer Lana Lawless is suing the LPGA for its “female at birth” policy, which requires that all competitors must have been born biological females. Lawless, who was born male, had gender reassignment surgery in 2005 and was a high-ranking golfer in the Long Drivers of America organization. But then Long Drivers changed its gender policy to match the LPGA rendering Lawless ineligible for competition.

“It’s an issue of access and opportunity,” Lawless told The New York Times. “I’ve been shut out because of prejudice.” Lawless is also suing Long Drivers of America and its major corporate sponsors for access.

This isn’t the first time trans politics have come up in the sports world. Sex testing and gender verification began in the sports world in the 1960s, when many suspected Eastern Bloc nations of permitting men to pose as women in competition, giving them an unfair advantage. Some sports organizations—such as the Olympics—have ruled in favor of transgender and transsexual athletes competing. The Olympics ruled in favor of trans competitors in 2004. And thanks to 1970s trans tennis pioneer Renee Richards, trans people are permitted to play professional tennis. In 1977 Richards sued the United States Tennis Association for the right to play without being gender-tested and won. But in many other cases the law is either murky or comes out expressly against transgender people competing in athletics.

Last year South African track and fielder Caster Semenya’s gender came under scrutiny during the 2009 World Championships. In the course of exploring the claim, it was discovered that Semenya was intersexed — a fact that neither she nor her family knew. (Semenya was never told that she was being gender tested).

Thankfully, Semenya was accepting of her fate. In a 2009 interview with YOU magazine, she said, “God made me the way I am and I accept myself.” Ironically, she was seen on the magazine’s cover sporting a “feminine makeover.”

And that brings up another point: If and when transgender people choose to compete in sports, should that information be made public? From a personal privacy perspective, it seems that it shouldn’t. And does the birth sex of an athlete really offer a competitive edge?