USA Powerlifting introduces gender-neutral MX category – but it woefully misses the mark for trans athletes

Vic Parsons
·3-min read

USA Powerlifting has introduced four new competition categories at local, state and regional levels, one of which is a gender-neutral ‘MX’ category.

The four new categories are MX, adaptive athlete, para bench, and raw with wraps, and will be introduced from 1 January.

The move has been hailed as “forward motion” by the LGBT Powerlifting Union, but others have criticised it as “another way to discriminate against transgender, gender non-binary, and gender-nonconforming (TNBGNC) athletes”.

USAP’s MX category is similar to the pre-existing MX category of the LGBT Powerlifting Union – except for a blanket ban on testosterone use.

In a statement, USAP said: “This new category provides dedicated competition space for any and all athletes no matter how they identify. MX category athletes follow the same rules of competition and are held to the same anti-doping requirements as all other categories.

“Looking forward, we are working to ensure MX athletes will have a path to compete at a higher level. Starting in 2022, MX athletes will compete at nationals and with that, have a path to international competition and the opportunity to represent the United States abroad.”

Athletes who wish to compete in USAP’s MX category will be subject to drug testing, and testosterone use is not allowed for any reason, even non-competitive uses such as gender-affirming healthcare or to counter facial wasting in AIDS patients.

International Olympic Committee guidelines state that therapeutic uses of testosterone, like for trans athletes, is permitted – but individual sports can set their own restrictions.

The LGBT Powerlifting Union, which does not test athletes for testosterone in its MX category, said that “any attempt by mainstream organisations to make powerlifting and strength sports more welcoming and accessible for LGBT+ athletes and encourages continued consultation and dialogue over these matters.

“We are encouraged to see that USA Powerlifting has now started to consider transgender, non-binary athletes, and intersex athletes, but are disappointed that they have chosen to miss an opportunity to engage with the IOC guidance over trans participation.”

Gender Justice, an organisation that fights for the legal rights of trans athletes, criticised USAP’s new MX category.

“With today’s decision, USA Powerlifting has found yet another way to discriminate against transgender, gender non-binary, and gender-nonconforming (TNBGNC) athletes,” Jess Braverman, legal director for Gender Justice, told the Bay Area Reporter.

Braverman said Gender Justice would “continue fighting to hold USA Powerlifting accountable for their transphobic policies and to ensure every athlete, of every gender identity, has equal opportunities to compete in the sports they love”.

But Ardel Thomas, the LGBT Powerlifting Union’s intersex and non-binary outreach representative, told the Bay Area Reporter that they are “thrilled” by the move.

“I think it shows forward motion on their part. I feel like USA Powerlifting is making a very concerted effort. For them to recognise an MX category is phenomenal,” Thomas said.

USA Powerlifting upheld ban on trans women

The USA Powerlifting introduction of an MX category comes less than 18 months after the organisation upheld a ban preventing transgender women from competing.

On its transgender participation policy page, USA Powerlifting says it is a sports organisation with rules and policies that are created to provide a “level playing field”.

“Men naturally have a larger bone structure, higher bone density, stronger connective tissue and higher muscle density than women,” it argues. “These traits, even with reduced levels of testosterone do not go away. While MTF (male-to-female) may be weaker and less muscle than they once were, the biological benefits given them at birth still remain over than of a female.”

In January, Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar said the ban on transgender athletes was “illegal” and “discriminatory”.

“I urge you to reconsider this discriminatory, unscientific policy and follow the example of the International Olympic Committee,” Omar said in a letter to USA Powerlifting executive director Priscilla Ribie and president Larry Maile.

“The myth that trans women have a ‘direct competitive advantage’ is not supported by medical science, and it continues to stoke fear and violence against one of the most at-risk communities in the world,” she added.