October 13, 2010
Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.
So here's a problem that the golf world in the time of Arnold Palmer and Babe Zaharias didn't have to deal with ... at least, not as far as we know. A transgender golfer is challenging the LPGA's "female at birth" rule, claiming that it unfairly infringes upon her civil rights.
First, the background: Lana Lawless is the plaintiff. Five years ago, Lawless underwent a sex change operation. Two years ago, she won a 2008 women's long-drive competition with a tee shot of 254 yards. But now, she's run up against the LPGA -- which, surprisingly enough, had a "female at birth" rule already on the books -- and she's finding it difficult to make headway.
As a result, Lawless has filed suit in San Francisco federal court with the intention of barring the LPGA from holding tournaments in California until it changes its policy banning transgender players. Also named in the suit are three LPGA sponsors and the Long Drivers of America, which sponsored the '08 contest she won. This year, the company changed its rules on transgender players to match those of the LPGA.
"I am, in all respects, legally and physically female," Lawless said in a statement Wednesday. "The state of California recognizes me as such and the LPGA should not be permitted to come into California and blatantly violate my rights. I just want to have the same opportunity to play professional golf as any other woman."
The obvious concern among many, of course, is that being legally and physically female doesn't automatically reroute one's physical abilities from the male framework to the female one. Put another way, if, say, Phil Mickelson suddenly underwent gender-reassignment surgery, Philomena Mickelson wouldn't suddenly lose her short-game ability. Jane Daly would -- well, let's be honest -- "Jane Daly" would be tabloid fodder every day of the week, and twice on tournament Sundays. However, the hormone treatments which Ms. Lawless has most likely undergone would mitigate much of that physical advantage.
The International Olympic Committee has permitted transgender athletes since 2004, provided the athlete underwent surgery and no less than two years of hormone-replacement therapy. But it's obviously a potential hot-button issue; recall the story of Caster Semenya, the South African sprinter who faced constant questions about her gender last year.
On the 2010 schedule, the LPGA has three tournaments in California, including this week's CVS/pharmacy LPGA Challenge. It's highly unlikely Lawless will get tournaments blocked in the state, but her case is already opening the transgender conversation, and regardless of the outcome, that's a good thing.