UPDATE, 4 p.m. EST, Jan. 13: USA Powerlifting responded to the lawsuit in a statement to Outsports, which has been added below.
ORIGINAL REPORT: Since 2019, Minnesota powerlifter JayCee Cooper has fought for one goal, to compete authentically. The transgender athlete’s running fight against USA Powerlifting entered a new phase Tuesday when lawyers representing Cooper filed a lawsuit against USAPL and USAPL Minnesota in Ramsey County Court.
Cooper announced the filing in a Tuesday morning news conference. “I don’t want anyone to experience what I and other trans athletes have and continue to experience” she said, fighting back tears. “Having our basic human dignity and our opportunities denied because we are trans.”
You can watch the full news conference recorded via Zoom here.
Case Announcement: Cooper v. USAPL
We’re announcing our lawsuit against USA Powerlifting with co-counsel @NicholsKaster for discriminating against trans athletes and banning trans athletes from competing in the category that aligns with their gender identity. Join us live with our client JayCee Cooper.Posted by Gender Justice on Tuesday, January 12, 2021
Aiding Cooper is a group of attorneys led by Gender Justice, the St. Paul, Minn.-based legal advocacy organization who have been active on the issue since its beginning. In 2019, the group filed the initial complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. In Tuesday’s filing, the lawyers formally charged USAPL with violations of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, the first such law in the nation to expressly protect transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary people from discrimination.
“If an organization wants to hold competitions in Minnesota, then they have to play by Minnesota rules,” Gender Justice legal director Jess Braverman said. “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.”
The lawsuit is the next round in a two-year battle against USAPL , whose policies ban transgender athletes from any opportunity to compete. It also comes on the heels of USAPL’s December announcement of four new lifting categories. Three of them, a gender inclusive “MX” category, an adaptive category and a para bench category, have drawn criticism for perceived tone-deafness on the part of the governing body.
“I truly don’t think that there were folks who understand transgender inclusion in sports at the table,” Indiana non-binary lifter Val Schull said on an appearance on the Disabled Girls Who Lift podcast. “I know that JayCee Cooper and Brianna Diaz from Pull for Pride and the Women’s Strength Coalition have worked to develop trans-inclusive policies for USAPL and they have not been implemented. The rule can be written out to be affirming, but it’s like, ‘We know what is best for our organization [USAPL] and this doesn’t include you.’”
A group of professional athletes also declared their support in a video played at the news conference. The video featured trans duathlete/triathlete Chris Mosier, Cleveland Browns fullback Johnny Stanton, former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and former U.S. Soccer Women’s National Team standout Lori Lindsey. GLAAD put out a statement of support as well, continuing the groundswell for Cooper that has included much of the grassroots powerlifting community in addition to public figures from Minnesota U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar, (D-Minn.) to U.S. women’s soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe.
In her remarks Tuesday, Cooper described the feeling of being told she couldn’t compete as being “gutted.” The passion surrounding that memory was evident througouth the news conference, but so was a pointed focus towards perhaps her biggest lift in this journey ahead.
“Sports belongs to all people. Sport is a human right,” she declared. “In this case we need to lift up trans rights.”
Outsports reached out to USA Powerlifting requesting a response to the lawsuit prior to publication. We received this statement from the organization via email after we published our story:
“USA Powerlifting is aware of the public notice made on the Gender Justice website but are not in receipt of any formal filing at this time. We dispute the allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present the facts within the legal system. No further statements will be made while this is going through legal proceedings.”
It should be noted that Outsports provided USA Powerlifting with a link to a PDF of the court filing, which can be viewed here: