Movement to Uphold Women’s Sports Grows after Judge Strikes Down USA Powerlifting Guidelines
On February 27, a district court judge in Minnesota ruled that USA Powerlifting must allow biological males who identify as female to compete in their women’s division. The decision is garnering widespread condemnation from athletes, governing bodies, sports commentators, women’s rights advocates, and many others, highlighting a growing trend among a public that is increasingly unafraid to speak out in defense of keeping men’s and women’s sports separate.
Before the ruling was handed down, USA Powerlifting had added a third category for competition in response to complaints from male lifters who identified as female. The “MX” category would have allowed lifters of both sexes regardless of how they identified. Nevertheless, Judge Patrick Diamond wrote in his ruling that USA Powerlifting had engaged in “unfair discriminatory practices” by not allowing biological males to compete in the women’s division.
“Our position has been aimed at balancing the needs of cis- and transgender women whose capacities differ significantly in purely strength sports,” said USA Powerlifting President Larry Maile. “…We respectfully disagree with the Court’s conclusions. We are considering all of our options, including appeal.”
The ruling has caused widespread anger among women athletes from a variety of disciplines.
“The women in powerlifting, we’re outraged, we’re angry, we’re hurt, we’re offended, we’re basically every emotion except for happy,” said April Hutchinson, a powerlifter for Team Canada. She further observed that the ruling could move the U.S. closer to the completely unrestricted Canadian Powerlifting Union, which does not require any adjustments in testosterone on the part of biological male competitors.
Marshi Smith, a former NCAA champion swimmer, noted how “insulting” the ruling felt. “It seems like we’re entering into an unenlightenment era now where truth no longer prevails,” she said. “The judges in the country should be seeking … truth [and] justice. To imply that women should be able to overcome, for example, in the sport of powerlifting, a 30% to 60% male advantage in the sport — it is outrageous; to try to attribute this enormous gap to better coaching or training facilities, is really insulting to women.”
As news of the decision rippled across the sports world, strong reactions against the ruling have come from a variety of quarters.
“Unfair to women,” tweeted ESPN commentator Sage Steele last week. “And the irony of this decision being made during Women’s History Month … The hypocrisy continues.” Veteran sports journalist Michelle Tafoya, who has worked with CBS, ABC, ESPN, and NBC, voiced similar concerns. “Transgender women have a Y chromosome. Biological women do not. There are genetic differences. Women’s sports needs to be protected.”
Paul Bossi, president of 100% Raw Powerlifting Federation, was clear in his evaluation of the ruling in light of the physical differences between men and women.
“A lot of the female powerlifters in our organization are pretty upset about this,” he said. “The women worked really, really hard to get where they are and this change here, it’s going to destroy not just powerlifting, but it’s going to trickle down and destroy other sports as well. … There’s a reason why there’s Title IX. There’s a reason why there’s male and female divisions in everything. Men are naturally stronger, they [have] 67% more muscle mass on them. Naturally, they have testosterone which is a muscle-inducing chemical that your body releases.”
Mary Szoch, director of the Center for Human Dignity at Family Research Council, pointed to inborn physical differences as crucial to framing the transgender sports debate.
“Men and women have equal dignity and worth, but that certainly doesn’t mean that they are interchangeable,” she told The Washington Stand. “One of the longtime understood differences between men and women is their respective levels of strength. On average, men are stronger than women. At comparative competitive levels — world class lifting vs. world class lifting — men are stronger than women. Everyone knows this. It is a basic biological fact.”
Szoch, a former NCAA women’s basketball player, went on to characterize the court ruling as “sexism.”
“Unfortunately, the Minnesota state court ruling completely ignores this fact, and in doing so, has made a mockery of women’s powerlifting,” she said. “Now, instead of there being male and female categories, there will be the men’s category and the ‘not strong enough to win in the men’s but still stronger than women’ category. In the name of ‘equality,’ the Minnesota state court has embraced sexism by telling female powerlifters to either be okay with losing to a man or to pick another sport.”
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.