By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)
With the recent legislative battle and passage of several bills aimed to restrict and ban transgender and non-binary athletes from participating in sports, 2021’s #TransgenderDayOfVisibility is extra important to recognize the discrimination of transgender and non-binary people but also to celebrate their important contributions to society that we tend to take for granted. Today, we would like to recognize two important transgender athletes who have and continue are making an important impact on ensuring transgender athletes have equal access to sport.
US Powerlifter JayCee Cooper is taking on USA Powerlifting (USAPL) for her right to compete as her authentic self but it hasn’t been easy. The notoriously conservative organization has previously instituted a full blanket ban on transgender athletes only allowing the athletes to compete in the gender category they were assigned at birth. Cooper herself has been powerlifting for the United States Powerlifting Association (USPA) which is the country’s second largest organizing body behind USAPL and has a much more inclusive policy open to transgender lifters to compete in the category that reflects their gender identity.
Cooper recently filed a lawsuit against USAPL to challenge their new “Mx” category which relegates transgender lifters to a “separate but equal” status within the organization. In a press conference announcing the suit, she stated,
“I don’t want anyone to experience what I and other trans athletes have and continue to experience” she said. “Having our basic human dignity and our opportunities denied because we are trans.”
The lawsuit charges USAPL with violating the Minnesota Human Rights Act which specifically protects transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary people from discrimination. Cooper, who currently lives and competes in Minnesota is working with the organization Gender Justice. Gender Justice legal director shared,
“USA Powerlifting’s ban on trans athletes is based of harmful stereotypes and it’s also based on a deeply flawed understanding on what it means to be transgender.”
While the battle, going on since 2019 hasn’t been easy, Cooper has received a lot of support from professional athletes and organizations all over the country, including Chris Mosier, Cleveland Browns’ Johnny Santon, Minnesota Vikings’ Chris Kllue, USWNT’s Lori Lindsey and Megan Rapinoe, Minnesota U.S. Representative Ilan Omar, GLAAD and many members of the powerlifting community.
Patricio “Pat” Manuel
Pat Manuel made US history when he became the first transgender boxer to have a professional fight following his transition. In his fight against opponent Hugo Aguilar, Pat won in a unanimous decision. In addition to making history, Manuel is also making his mark as a professional boxer, challenging the stigmas and assumptions about transgender people, specifically trans men in sport.
“I think if people knew what it took to get to this moment, it’s been almost two years since I’ve been in a ring,” Manuel said after the fight. “I just have to say my opponent, hats off to him. He came to fight. He was fighting me the whole time. He fought me as a man, and I have so much respect for him.”
Boxing is one of the most machismo sports out there, and Manuel’s return to the ring as a man hasn’t always been easy. Even after the fight and his historic win, not everybody appreciated Manuel’s accomplishment. However, that’s not going to keep Pat from moving forward.
“I hear some fans aren’t happy,” Manuel added when hearing boos from the crowd. “It’s OK, I’ll be back. I’ll make them happy then.”
After Pat had begun his transition, he decided to return to the sport but faced new challenges. The California Boxing Commission had never handled a situation like Pat’s before and uncertain in how to proceed; wouldn’t allow him to fight. However, in 2015 the International Olympic Committee released its updated guidelines regarding the eligibility of transgender people to participate in the Olympics which opened the door for trans people to take part. USA Boxing in accordance with this new policy, granted Pat a license to fight. Before his historic fight at the Golden Boy Boxing Tournament, Pat had only fought twice since transition, one that he won and the other he lost. Unfortunately, Pat had a difficult time finding opponents and contending with injuries which stalled his career.
Winning his first fight as a professional boxer, it’s safe to say, Pat Manuel’s career is on the move again.
“I just need to say to everyone that’s been along with this journey for like six years really, thank you so much,” Manuel said. “I couldn’t be here without you. I really needed that support to help push me to this point … There are so many people that just wanted me to be here, and I’m so happy that I could perform for them. I’m not in here just for one show, for one fight. This is something I love. I’m not done with this sport. I’ll be back.”