The strength sports community has been on the front lines of what has turned the national debate over transgender rights into a 33-state legislative siege. This week’s edition of The Trans Sporter Room featured representatives from Pull for Pride. The grassroots group seeking to expand inclusion in strength sports, including the group’s second annual Share The Platform grant program, is taking applications now through June 25.

The program is designed to give direct aid to transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary and intersex athletes who need help paying for costs related to participating and competing.

Over $2,000 in grants are available this year to aid with costs such as purchasing equipment, entry fees and federation dues.

Pull for Pride co-chair Breanna Diaz said the inspiration for the grants came from the organization’s other co-chair, Minnesota powerlifter-turned-activist JayCee Cooper. They cited Cooper’s bitter experience fighting through a two-year battle against a trans ban put forth by USA Powerlifting. The ban faces a court challenge filed by Cooper in January 2021.

“JayCee and I put our heads together, and we thought about what are ways we can address some barriers to trans folks accessing fitness, and we knew safety was one and another is financing,” Diaz said. “It's really expensive. Shoes, gym memberships, federation fees, which they don’t give you a refund if they ban you because you are trans, and it adds up. It’s thousands of dollars to participate in a sport that we love.”

Percy said eyes are starting to open among powerlifting supporter and athletes, even if those of some governing bodies remain shut

Situations like Cooper’s fueled Pull For Pride’s actions toward change in their sport for the better, and there are signs that it’s paying off.

“Powerlifting to me is everything, and people are becoming a lot more accepting,” said Scott Percy, a Pull for Pride grant recipient in 2020 and a trans liaison with Revolution Powerlifting Syndicate. “We all know regardless if you are trans or cis, we’ve taken the exact same road to get here.”

Val Schull, a non-binary powerlifter and Pull for Pride board member, said making the sport safer and inclusive for them was especially personal. Schull noted that Cooper standing up for herself was a catalyst for standing in their own truth and competing in the RPS in that truth.

“Her struggle has affected me personally because right when that was happening, I had to do some reflecting as far as coming out in terms of the sport,” they said.

In July 2019, Schull stepped into the lifting arena at the RPS Indiana State Championships while being out, non-binary, and proud for the first time. “It was one of my favorite competitive meets and I was so happy,” they recalled. “I was able to bench the most I ever benched. I tried for a 500-pound squat. I missed but it was a good attempt. I don’t think I would have had such a good meet if I hadn’t be able to compete in the way that was most comfortable and the most affirmed.”

During a far-reaching 50-minute conversation, focus turned to two contentious issues at the intersection of sports and transgender people. All noted the recent rash of anti-trans legislation including bans on transgender student-athletes, criminalization of affirming health care, and now the return of the “Bathroom Bill” in the form of restrictions that became law on Monday in Tennessee.

“It unconscionable to have people legislate the criminalization of healthcare for youth,” Diaz said, speaking pointedly about nearly 20 bills introduced in her native Texas alone. “It is unsurprising, yet still disappointing and infuriating, how often transgender people are the scapegoat for far-right agendas. These horrible bills will do nothing but harm a lot of trans folks.”

Also discussed was the possibility that a transgender athlete, most likely New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, will step on the Olympic stage for the first time during the Summer Olympics in Tokyo scheduled to open July 23.

“It would be honestly amazing,” Schull said. “And also happening in strength sports, something I compete in? That would be so hype!”

“I think I would cry,” Percy said of maybe tuning in to the Olympics and seeing Hubbard on the lifting platform. “To see someone on that stage as a part of my community there? I would 100% cry.”

Percy has an Olympian goal, and the 2022 Gay Games is his target. Schull has been doing some heavy lifting toward a hefty title. Diaz got their hands on some video console gold. That and more was in this week’s edition of The Trans Sporter Room. Now available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify Podcasts, or via our Megaphone Player. Video is also available here. You can also find it on your favorite podcast platform and everywhere you find Outsports. We also invite you to subscribe to all six Outsports podcasts!

For application information for the Pull for Pride Share the Platform grant program, click this link! The application period is open through June 25.