Social Issues

'A huge win': Minnesota judge rules USA Powerlifting can't bar trans athletes

A woman working out
In 2018, JayCee Cooper's request to compete in women’s powerlifting was denied by USA Powerlifting officials. This week, a Minnesota judge ruled that USA Powerlifting illegally discriminated against her.
Courtesy of Gender Justice

A Ramsey County District Court judge has ruled that USA Powerlifting illegally discriminated against a transgender woman who was barred from participating in women's powerlifting competitions. 

In Judge Patrick Diamond's decision released Monday night, he ordered USA Powerlifting to immediately stop discriminating according to sexual identity and to revise their policies within two weeks. 

In 2018, JayCee Cooper's request to compete in women’s powerlifting was denied by USA Powerlifting officials. She was told by the organization’s medical director that “male-to-female transgenders are not allowed to compete as females in our static strength sport as it is a direct competitive advantage.” 

After the ruling, Cooper said she was denied access to competitions by USA Powerlifting after clearing every hurdle asked of her. 

“Trans athletes across the country deserve the same rights and protections as everyone else, and we deserve equitable opportunities to compete in the sports we love,” Cooper said in a statement. “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.”

USA Powerlifting argued that they ban transgender women from participating due to fairness. The organization's website outlines their policies on transgender athletes, where they say "USA Powerlifting is not a fit for every athlete and for every medical condition or situation."

The organization argues they believe transgender women have developmental advantages, "including but not limited to increased body and muscle mass, bone density, bone structure, and connective tissue."

Cooper's lawsuit filed in 2021 alleged that USA Powerlifting and Powerlifting Minnesota violated Minnesota's Human Rights Act. That law, passed in 1993, was based on an earlier Minneapolis statute and made Minnesota the first state in the country to ban discrimination against transgender people. 

Cooper’s attorneys argued that banning transgender people from sports harmed their mental and physical health, and that state law prevents policies that discriminate against certain groups. 

Jess Braverman, legal director at the advocacy group Gender Justice, said many other organizations have allowed transgender athletes without issue, including the Minnesota State High School League. She said it’s clear from these experiences that “trans inclusion is not a threat to women's sports.” 

“I hope that sports organizations will put forward trans-inclusive policies because it's the right thing to do and because it makes women's sports stronger,” Braverman said. “But with this decision, they are on notice, you can't ban trans women from women's sports in this state."

Braverman described the ruling as a “huge win for trans folks here in Minnesota, and all women athletes.”  

“Transgender people want to participate in sports for the same reason everyone does, there’s a lot of physical benefits, mental benefits, friendship, companionship,” Braverman said. “Trans women athletes are here for all the same reasons as all women athletes are here and we need to be respectful, we need to be understanding — quite frankly, as someone who participates in women’s sports, I’m thrilled that trans inclusion is the law of the land in Minnesota.” 

Judge Diamond wrote in his decision Monday that state bans on discrimination in public accommodation and business applied to Cooper’s case. A hearing to discuss damages is scheduled for May 1. 

The lead attorney representing USA Powerlifting did not immediately respond to a request for comment. USA Powerlifting officials also did not respond to multiple requests for comment.