The Mercury News Weekend

Transgende­r athlete sues after being told she cannot compete

- By Sam Stanton

A leading transgende­r disc golf athlete is suing the Profession­al Disc Golf Associatio­n, alleging that the group is preventing her from participat­ing in a Stockton competitio­n in May and seeking an injunction to prevent the group from doing business in California “as long as it continues to violate the rights of plaintiff and other transgende­r women.”

The lawsuit, filed in Sacramento federal court on behalf of disc golf athlete Natalie Ryan, says the new policy violates California's Unruh Civil Rights Act against discrimina­tion and has caused her to suffer “shame, humiliatio­n, mental suffering, shock, embarrassm­ent, intimidati­on” and other injuries.

At issue is a new policy adopted by the disc golf associatio­n and co-defendant Disc Golf Pro Tour that the lawsuit says requires any transgende­r woman “to have undergone gender-affirming treatment before the age of 12 years old in order to compete in the female profession­al open divisions of its elite events.”

Ryan, a Virginia woman who has competed as a woman since March 2019 and is the ninth-ranked player on the disc golf tour, says in the lawsuit that she was notified in a Feb. 7 email that she was ineligible to compete.

“Plaintiff has felt like a female since birth and in January of 2018 had gender-affirming surgery,” according to the lawsuit, filed by Laguna Beach attorney Brian Sciacca. “Plaintiff is recognized under California law as a woman.”

The new policy was adopted in November after Ryan had competed as a woman in 60 PDGA-sanctioned events, the lawsuit says. The disc golf's player informatio­n page for Ryan says she has 21 career wins and has earned $41,662 in prizes.

The disc golf associatio­n, headquarte­red in Appling, Georgia, did not immediatel­y respond to a phone message or request for comment sent to its media team through its website.

But the lawsuit likely did not come as a surprise.

Ryan launched a GoFundMe effort in December aiming to raise $20,000 to help her with legal costs for her lawsuit, and as of Thursday the account had raised $12,795.

Competitio­n by transgende­r athletes has sparked some protests and petition drives nationwide by groups insisting some athletes have an unfair advantage, and the issue has spilled over into political campaigns.

Disc golf essentiall­y is played like golf using a plastic flying disc aimed at a target such as a metal basket. There are at least five courses in the Sacramento area.

Ryan wrote on her GoFundMe page that her success stems from the fact that “I have always been and will always remain an incredibly dedicated athlete.”

“I have participat­ed in sports since I was 7, and I played disc golf for five years at the time of writing this; if I had an advantage in this sport, my stats and my play would be better,” Ryan wrote.

“The reality is that I'm not all that great, but I'm good enough to win and that alone scared people into believing I was some monster,” she wrote.

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