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Powerlifted: Sports stars stand with JayCee Cooper

Megan Rapinoe is among those showing support for this trans woman’s quest to compete.

JayCee Cooper meeting up with Lori Lindsey, Megan Rapinoe and Jen Sinkler prior to the Women’s World Cup Champion USA Women’s National Team meet Portugal in a Friendly in St. Paul, Minn. September 4
Instagram @jayceeisalive

The latest show of support for Minnesota powerlifter JayCee Cooper began with a simple query by the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. They were in her hometown of St. Paul for a post-World Cup celebration friendly on September 4. Cooper was working at a USWNT event as the DJ. The team made a request she never expected:

“Do you want to go to the game tomorrow?”

Cooper not only landed a skybox seat watching a favorite team, but a special snapshot alongside U.S. soccer stars Megan Rapinoe and Lori Lindsey, and noted fitness blogger Jen Sinkler.

“It was kind of a warming moment to be with people who are also outspoken about their advocacy efforts while competing at a high level,” Cooper told Outsports about meeting the stars, especially a leader in the USWNT’s push for equal pay. “It was almost like a ‘welcome to the family’ moment.”

Cooper, who has been fighting all year just to have a chance to compete as a powerlifter, said she was encouraged by what she said Rapinoe told her: “‘Keep fighting.’”

“With Megan fighting her own battle with equal pay, to take a moment to acknowledge me just wanted to play means a lot,” Cooper said. “I love how empowered the team is coming off the World Cup win to have the platform to fight, and every step trickles down into how people see trans athletes. I’m in 100 percent with them and it’s another part of creating more spaces for more people to compete.”

Cooper’s battle with USA Powerlifting began with an email last December, telling her she could not compete: “Male-to-female transgenders are not allowed to compete as females in our static strength sports as it is a direct competitive advantage,”

“Right off the bat it put a bad taste in my mouth,” Cooper noted with a hint of bitterness in her voice as she recounts the moment. “I was doing things in good faith and playing by the rules.”

More than a dozen of Cooper’s cisgender competitors showed support for her fight by refusing to lift in the competitions she was denied entry in. They also jeered anti-trans fans and officials with chants of “share the platform”.

Instagram montage of the USA Powerlifting’s Minnesota State Championship team’s protest by planettransgender.com using BeFunky Instagram via planettransgender.com via BeFunky

Among those who “timed out” their lift in protest was powerlifter Breanna Diaz, who is a co-director along with Cooper of Pull for Pride, a nationwide deadlifting effort supporting homeless LGBTQ youth. “The ban is based on fake science and myth about what it means to be male or female,” Diaz told Vice News at an April competition in Washington, D.C. “I would welcome anybody to compete in a manner consistent with their gender identity,”

From there, USA Powerlifting threatened to disqualify any competitor who protested the new transgender participation policy.

Then the organization doubled down on its anti-trans position during a May 9 plenary session of the governing body in Lombard, Ill. The president of USAPL, psychologist Dr. Lawrence Maile, crafted the organization’s exclusionary policy with the help of the British-based, anti-transgender group Fair Play for Women.

The session also voted down a competing, pro-inclusive proposal that was co-written by Cooper and Diaz with the support of the Women’s Strength Coalition. The final vote was 46-4 against a policy that would bring USA powerlifting in line with International Powerlifting Federation regulations which themselves follow the current regulations of the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency. The Women’s Strength Coalition blasted the decision and the process saying, “USAPL leadership made clear their gross misunderstanding of transgender people, healthcare, and well-being... USAPL has continuously operated in bad faith throughout this process.”

This fight also caught the attention of outspoken Minnesota Democratic congressperson Rep. Ilhan Omar, who wrote a letter asking the USAPL to adopt the rules of the International Olympic Committee, which allow trans women to compete as women.

USAPL responded in an interview with Outsports’ Daniel Villarreal for an upcoming expanded feature. Dr. Maile contends the USAPL’s policy is consistent with the IOC regulations for transgender athletes. “The IOC says, if you’re going to let them in, here are the conditions that you have to meet. But you are allowed, individual sporting federations, are allowed to make that determination,” Maile told Outsports. “We see ourselves as having done a thoughtful examination consistent with the criteria defined by the IOC. Even more specifically, we are only looking at our sport. We’re not talking about social justice issues and prejudice and politics.”

Watch for our in-depth interviews with Dr. Lawrence Maile of USA Powerlifting and trans powerlifter JayCee Cooper, coming this month to Outsports.com

Meanwhile, Cooper has kept her dream alive and is thriving in competition in the smaller U.S. Powerlifting Association. She competed for, and earned a bid in their June national championships in Ohio, where she met her own high expectations.

Cooper told Outsports the main reason she wants to compete on the USAPL stage is because of its closeness to the biggest stage in sport. USA Powerlifting has close contact with the wider Olympic movement and is a sport that is in consideration for addition to the Olympic programs, perhaps in 2024 or 2028 or beyond.

Yet, even without her competing on that stage, her presence is evident. One medalist at the USAPL’s Bench Press Nationals in August, Nicolette Ziegler, used her moment on the podium to put Cooper’s fight in the spotlight, with a tee-shirt proclaiming “Trans lifters belong here.”

“Nicolette showing that tee-shirt was so affirming,” Cooper said. “She was putting allyship into action and doing something about it. If one person can put themselves on the platform there must be more.”

Among those using that platform, even with the risks, were some of the biggest names in women’s sport as well. A weekend that started with a simple question for JayCee Cooper is the next boost in her greatest dream.

“Recently the USAPL had a training camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and I hope they find their Olympic Spirit and go back to the principles of Olympism,” Cooper said. “They state that ‘sport is a human right’. My ideal scenario is a governing body that provides a platform for all people to compete. That is what we should all be striving for and that is what the Olympic Spirit is all about. I’m not going to stop until we realize that.”