A transgendered golfer has filed suit against the LPGA -- the Ladies Professional Golf Association -- saying the organization's rules that a player must be "female at birth" are outdated and discriminatory.
Lana Lawless, 57, said she was denied membership in the national women's golf governing body even though she is a post-operative transsexual and considered a woman by her home state of California.
She filed suit against the LPGA this week in U.S. District Court in San Francisco as well as against the Long Drivers of America, which has also prohibited her from competing in their golf tournaments.
"I'm not physically as strong as I used to be," Lawless said. "I'm well under the top end of testosterone levels for genetically-born females."
The suit also seeks an injunction to bar the LGPA and LDA from holding tournaments and qualifying events in California as long as they continue to deny post-operative transgender competitors.
"How I feel is, 'Here we go again,'" said Lawless, a retired police officer who says she has lost a commercial golf sponsor because she has been prevented from competing.
According to court documents, Lawless won the LDA's women's long drive championship in 2008, when the organization had no set rule on transgendered athletes. But a change in policy to mirror the LGPA's "female at birth" requirement both disqualified her from future competition, the lawsuit charges, and made her ineligible to reap the benefits from her 2008 win.
"I'm the only professional women's golfer in the United States. I'm the champion. They changed the rule," she said. "How can you say it's not directed at me?"
Lawless' lawsuit also names as defendants several sponsors of the LDA tournaments, including CVS, Dick's Sporting Goods and Re/Max.
Mike Scanlan, LGPA's public relations manager, confirmed the tour's "female at birth" policy but declined to comment on why it was in place when other sports associations, including the International Olympic Committee, allow transgendered athletes to compete with stipulations.
"We haven't been formally served with the lawsuit so we can't comment at this time," Scanlan said. "Our policy is what it is currently, and beyond that we don't have much to say."
Lawless underwent gender reassignment surgery in September 2005.
The vice president of the LDA referred comment to the organization's attorney, who did not return messages seeking comment.
Competition Rules Vary for Transgender Athletes
Legal protection for transgender athletes varies in the U.S.
Though Olympic-sanctioned sports such as track and field and swimming abide by the International Olympic Committee's policy on allowing male-to-female transgendered athletes, other domestic athletic governing bodies aren't held to the same rules.
The IOC ruled in 2004 that transsexual male-to-female athletes would be allowed to compete two years after gender reassignment surgery, provided they have undergone hormone therapy. Each instance is handled on a case-by-case basis.
"The issue is the education around transgender athletes in general," said Nancy Hogshead-Makar, senior director of advocacy for the Women's Sports Foundation. "There's a disconnect between what athletes are under the impression of, versus what the medical community has concluded."
Hogshead-Makar, a retired gold-medal winning Olympic swimmer, said the belief that transgender female competitors would have an advantage in strength is still common among athletes
"But the medical experts say no," she said, "that there is a wide variance among women between height and strength."
The Women's Sports Foundation's position on transgender athletes is parallel to that of the IOC.
"If indeed they don't have this unfair advantage over people who were born female, then of course they should be allowed to compete," Hogshead-Makar said.
Lawless pointed to the sole transsexual golfer on the European Ladies Tour, whose ranking is not anywhere near the top.
"By past practice ... she should be the Tiger Woods of ladies golf," Lawless said.
At the college level, the NCAA has a policy that transgendered students are allowed to compete as whatever gender is listed on their state-issued documents, such as driver's licenses and voter registrations.
The issue of gender identity in sports made headlines last year, when South African women's runner Caster Semenya was forced to undergo testing after allegations surfaced that she had an intersex condition that gave her an unfair advantage over other female runners.
Earlier this year she was cleared by the International Association of Athletic Federations to compete in the women's division, though the results of the testing were not released for privacy reasons.
Hogshead-Makar said the closest comparison to the Lawless lawsuit might be the legal battle waged in 1970s by tennis player Renee Richards. Born a man, Richards sued for the right to play competitive tennis as a woman after being denied entry into the U.S. Open. The New York Supreme Court later ruled in her favor.