The LPGA is being sued in a California court this week by former Re/Max Women’s World Long-Drive Champion, Lana Lawless. The 57-year-old bartender and former SWAT team member, who underwent gender reassignment surgery in 2005, is suing on the grounds that the organisation’s ‘female at birth’ clause is discriminatory and, as such, a violation of California civil rights law.
The lawsuit has been cannily timed by the plaintiff to coincide with this week’s LPGA Challenge, to be held in Dannville California. Corporate sponsors of the event, CVS, have also been named in the suit, along with the Long Drivers of America and their principle corporate sponsors, Re/Max and (the appropriately named) Dick’s Sporting Goods.
The standard argument in support of the LPGA and the Long Drivers of America’s position would state that a transgender athlete taking part in female competition does so with a superior genetic inheritance, ie. stronger joints, bigger muscles, more testosterone. But adhering to this argument involves sticking to a pretty simplistic view of the gender reassignment process. It’s more complex than taking a scalpal to the nethers.
For a start, the immediate physical alteration is accompanied in most cases by a pretty rigorous hormone treatment, the effects of which are dramatic, as Lawless herself pointed out in a 2008 interview:
“I’ve lost muscle mass. I don’t have big guns (biceps). They give you a drug that stops you from producing testosterone. Your muscles atrophy. In about seven months, I went from 245 pounds to 175 pounds. I’ve gained back a little bit, but I feel like I don’t have any power.”
It’s for this reason that most of the world’s largest sporting bodies, including the Olympic Committee and, importantly, the European LPGA, admit transgender athletes as long as they’ve undergone a hormone treatment that lasts at least two years. Beyond that threshold, it becomes nearly impossible to define the nature of the advantage obtained by athletes, whether ‘transitioned’ (like Lana Lawless) or not.
To put it bluntly, there’s a point past which every successful athlete possesses physical attributes that can be deemed ‘unfair’.
Of course, the biggest card in Lawless’s hand is the fact that she has already competed, and won, on the long-drive circuit. The 2008 Re/Max World Championship winner, she was only banned from competition this year after the Long Drivers of America conveniently (moi, deliberately discriminate?) decided to bring their policy into line with that of the only major golf organisation that persists in banning transgender athletes from competition, namely the LPGA. Lawless, it seems, could compete only as long as she didn’t win. On that basis alone, Lawless’s claim that she’s ‘been shut out because of prejudice’ becomes pretty tough to argue with.
The LPGA is in so insecure a financial position and consequently so anxious to guard its precious image (lovely all-American girls wandering the links) that it sometimes finds itself taking stances radically out of step with the sporting times we live in. This, I suspect, will go the way of the English fluency tests and be proven one of those instances.
As usual, comments and views welcome.