USA Powerlifting, which has come under fire for banning transgender competitors, is tacking on a lot of extra poundage to competitors in the Arnold Sports Festival beginning today in Columbus, Ohio.

A newsletter emailed to members includes a “message in regards to member rights” from the USAPL’s lawyer, and a reminder from its president Larry Maile about the league’s code of conduct. A link to the rules is prefaced with two warnings: first, that “a powerlifting meet is not the place to protest political and social issues.”

And second, “Interfering with the enjoyment of spectators and harassing lifters and officials which are contrary to the Code of Conduct will not be tolerated.”

Screenshot from USAPL Newsletter

Powerlifters who took part in a protest earlier this month in Minnesota, and shared the newsletter with Outsports, say they know exactly why USAPL is making this threat.

“Standing in solidarity with transgender individuals is not a political or social statement,” said JayCee Cooper, co-director of the Pull for Pride organization, in a joint statement with the Women’s Strength Coalition. “It is standing for human dignity, respect, and rights.”

Fourteen lifters showed their support for Cooper and other trans athletes by taking the platform and letting time expire.

Instagram/Hamm Media

USAPL’s called those protests an instance of “harassment and disruption.”

“It is unsportsmanlike to not take into the account the other lifters that trained for weeks, if not months, for events and simply want to compete and have a good time with friends and family. A good percentage of new lifters there were nervous enough just to step on the platform without the added pressure of having to deal with protests.” — USAPL newsletter

Cooper’s application to join USAPL in December was denied, and Cooper received this explanation — containing the non-word “transgenders” — explaining why:

“Male-to-female transgenders [sic] are not allowed to compete as females in our static strength sports as it is a direct competitive advantage,” wrote USAPL Therapeutic Use Exemptions Committee Chair Kristopher Hunt in an email.

Hunt followed up with Cooper in January with this explanation:

“Transgender male to female individuals having gone through male puberty confer an unfair competitive advantage over non-transgender females due to increased bone density and muscle mass from pubertal exposure to testosterone.”

That’s a red herring, of course, since there are racial disparities in bone density that have not resulted in bans on athletes of color, and the body of every woman on the planet makes testosterone, to varying degrees. The IAAF’s attempt to restrict women athletes with higher than average testosterone, like Caster Semenya, is now being decided by the Court for Arbitration for Sport.

To counter USAPL’s argument for the ban, Cooper notes that the Open Powerlifting website tells the real story of her so-called “biological advantages” over cisgender (not transgender) powerlifters.

“My winning total from USPA state wouldn’t have been in the top 100 totals in my weight class in 2018 in either USA Powerlifting (USAPL) or U.S. Powerlifting Association (USPA),” Cooper wrote in her statement to Outsports. “All-time by total, Wilks, or IPF points – I wouldn’t have made the top 800.”

Cooper said the myth spread by tennis icon Martina Navratilova and those who agree with her that trans athletes are cheaters is an affront to every woman, cis and trans alike.

“The idea that I, or any other trans athlete, are somehow cheating is rooted in sexism and transmisogyny,” said Cooper.

According to Pull for Pride, some USA Powerlifting members from across the country have formed a committee to draft a new policy, that they plan to propose at the USAPL National Governing Body meeting on May 9th in Lombard, Ill., during Open Nationals. The group rebuts arguments by the league that trans inclusion is inherently unfair, by citing the 15 years of proven eligibility standards by international sporting organizations, including the IOC and NCAA, which Pull for Pride said “USAPL is willfully ignoring.”

Cooper and trans cycling champion Rachel McKinnon recently appeared on a Fox News program to make the case for trans participation in sports. McKinnon argued that any perceivable “opportunities lost” are no different than anyone moving from one place to another, and competing in another district. “Participation shouldn’t and can’t be contingent on placing last,” Cooper said.

USAPL’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment before press time.

Below is the full statement from Women’s Strength Coalition and Pull for Pride:

Joint statement by Women’s Strength Coalition and Pull for Pride