Edits 12/23/2020: clarification of legal challenges to USAPL’s ban have been changed and statement from Athlete Ally has also been added.

Following years of criticism and lawsuits of their deliberate exclusion against transgender athletes from participating in USA Powerlifting sanctioned events; USA Powerlifting announced that the 2021 competition season will include a new Mx competitive category meant for transgender, non-binary and intersex athletes.

USAPL’s Mx category is inspired by the LGBT+ Powerlifting Union’s own Mx division and uses the same weight categories. LGBT+ Powerlifting Union’s was approached by USAPL notifying of their intention to introduce their own MX Division earlier this year. While the LGBT+ Powerlifting Union’s Mx category is an option for transgender, non-binary and intersex lifters who can also choose to compete in the gender category that aligns with their gender identity; USAPL’s policy will require transgender, non-binary and intersex lifters to only compete in the Mx category.

The move comes after mediation broke down between trans-inclusive sport advocates and USAPL when USAPL was sued in 2019 over their exclusion of transgender athletes which generated significant and often times vitriol controversy over the inclusion of transgender athletes in sports. Sadly, that debate still continues as it is often led by people who refuse to learn or understand what the process of transition consists of, the physiological effects on the body (including physical performance) and the psychological implications on athletes who must face a chorus of hatred while having to choose between their gender identity and their status as an athlete. The lawsuits against USAPL have been ongoing as USAPL doubled down on its exclusionary policy; including releasing articles trying to argue their position using a scientific basis. However, the studies they cited were questionable at best and did not actually have any transgender participants as well they often consisted of outdated arguments such as the use of chromosomes to determine biological sex (XX and XY) which have been rejected by almost every other sport federation including the International Olympic Committee as being not being scientifically valid or reliable.

USAPL tried to clarify their transgender policy in 2019 by stating that transgender athletes are welcome to compete in the gender category consistent with their gender assigned at birth. However, this too has been criticized given that it would require transgender, intersex and non-binary athletes would only be allowed to compete in the gender division inconsistent with their gender identity and thus, not inclusive. This double down has led to several incidents at meets in which female lifters who are suspected of being trans (regardless of whether or not they are) were subjected to protest and controversy over their “masculine” appearance combined with their performance at the meet.

This announcement of the Mx category is a positive step forward for the conservative organization that has generally lagged behind other powerlifting and sport federations in adopting more transgender inclusive policies, including United States Powerlifting Association, USA Weightlifting, Amateur Athletic Union, NCAA, IOC and the LGBT+ Powerlifting Union. The new policy states that the Mx category is gender division but still subject to the same anti-doping rules USAPL has on book which has not been adapted to reflect the new Mx category. Most notably, the use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUE) in regard to the use of testosterone is still completely banned, thus transgender who use testosterone will still be unable to compete within USAPL. This has drawn some criticism from transgender powerlifters, including JayCee Cooper who led the lawsuit effort against USAPL in 2019. Cooper criticized the new policy as “separate and unequal for participation of transgender, non-binary and intersex athletes” as well as that the TUE policy “strike at the heart of the issue, that USAPL does not believe trans women are women or that trans men are men, and nonbinary folks continue to be an afterthought.”

In addition, Athlete Ally which works to fight against homophobia and transphobia in sport also criticized the new policy;

“Forcing trans athletes into a separate, third category is harmful ‘othering’ that only furthers the isolation and discrimination trans athletes face,” said Anne Lieberman, Athlete Ally’s Director of Policy and Programs. “It lumps trans athletes and nonbinary athletes together, when they should have the opportunity to choose the category in which they’d like to compete.  It also deprives all athletes of what we know to be the best part of sport — learning from and growing with a diverse group of teammates, and building friendships that last lifetimes. 

There must be a pathway to competition for trans athletes that does not force them into a category that they did not ask to be created — a pathway that affords trans and nonbinary athletes the same opportunities as their cisgender peers. We call on USAPL immediately to adopt the inclusive policy developed by Pull for Pride and allow trans and nonbinary athletes to compete in the category that aligns with their gender identity.”

The LGBT+ Powerlifting Union which is made up of a large diversity of LGBTQI sport advocates and for whom the USAPL Mx policy is inspired by also reacted to the announcement;

“The LGBT Powerlifting Union acknowledge any attempt by mainstream organizations to make Powerlifting and Strength sports more welcoming and accessible for LGBT+ athletes and encourages continued consultation and dialogue over these matters. We are encouraged to see that USA Powerlifting have now started to consider Transgender, Non-Binary athletes and Intersex athletes, but are disappointed that they have chosen to miss an opportunity to engage with the IOC Guidance over Trans participation.

The LGBT Powerlifting Union are pleased to be in communication and dialogue with USA Powerlifting over LGBT+ issues and will continue to represent all sections of the LGBT+ community within any further dialogue and discussions with USA Powerlifting and  other mainstream federations. We are today launching our International LGBT+ Powerlifting Directory with thirty-seven different “routes to platform” for LGBT+ athletes to participate in Powerlifting, showing the amount of progress that has made on LGBT+ issues over the last four years.

The LGBT Powerlifting Union would like to highlight there are now at least thirty-seven federations, national affiliates, championships and clubs that have adopted LGBT+ friendly policies in the last four years. Some of these have adopted variations of the IOC Guidance* for Trans participation, whilst others have introduced their own variations of MX Category. Many have also introduced codes of conduct safeguarding LGBT+ athletes from abuse, both inside competition venues and over social media.  

We would also like to highlight that the Gay Games* in 2022 will for the first time offer Trans, Non-Binary and Intersex athletes the option of participating in Powerlifting in an MX Category. This will be the first time in Gay Games history that any sport has adopted an optional third gender category, welcoming all LGBT+ athletes. These are all positive steps forward for all LGBT+ athletes and we welcome continued and constructive dialogue with all mainstream Powerlifting Federations over LGBT+ issues. 

The LGBT IPC does not have any qualification standards and is open to athletes regardless of sexuality, gender, race, religion or ability. The LGBT Powerlifting Union have recently become full members of the Federation of Gay Games and promote the ideal of Participation, Inclusion and Personal Best. The registration for LGBT IPC 2021 is now open and further details can be found at our website www.lgbtpowerlifting.org  and our Facebook Page search “LGBT International Powerlifting Championships”.

So, while USAPL’s progress on adopting the Mx category isn’t ideal, it is a step forward toward making sport more open and inclusive for transgender, non-binary and intersex athletes. It also encouraging that USAPL is willing to continue the discussion with LGBTQI sport advocates toward moving the sport forward. Hopefully this will encourage more participation to help inspire further progress, awareness and representation of transgender, non-binary and intersex athletes in sports.

By Dirk Smith