They say there's no such thing as bad publicity, but as far as headlines go, this can't be one the LPGA Tour appreciates during such a crucial stage of its financial "comeback."
Just as players were readying to tee off in the pro-am for the CVS/pharmacy LPGA Challenge in Danville, Calif. (the tour's last event on U.S. soil before moving on to tourneys in Malaysia, South Korea, Japan and Mexico), on Wednesday morning, the New York Times broke the news that 57-year-old Lana Lawless, a retired police officer who underwent gender-reassignment surgery to become a woman in 2005, has filed a federal lawsuit against the LPGA Tour. In her suit, Lawless claims that the tour's requirement that competitors be "female at birth" violates California civil rights law.
*Lawless became a successful long-drive competitor after her surgery, winning the world long drive championship for women in 2008 before Long Drivers of America adapted the LPGA's gender rule the following year. Now banned from such events, as well as from attempting to qualify for any other LPGA competitions, Lawless calls the ruling "devastating" and is seeking unspecified damages from the LPGA, Long Drivers of America, LDA corporate sponsors Dick's Sporting Goods and Re/Max, and CVS, the title sponsor of this week's LPGA Tour stop in California.
UPDATE: A press release from Lawless and her lawyers includes the following comments:
Lawless' attorney, Christopher Dolan of The Dolan Law Firm in San Francisco, stated, "California's civil rights laws prevent discrimination against all minorities, including transgender persons. The LPGA and LDA operate a number of high profile qualifying events and tournaments in California which are highly lucrative to their sponsors."* **"There are a handful of states which protect the civil rights of transgender persons. The intended outcome of this suit is to force the LPGA and the LDA to change their unlawful practices or be precluded from operating within California and other states, such as New York, which prohibit discrimination based on sexual reassignment. They will have to choose between continuing with their tournaments or their discrimination," continued Dolan. **
**According to Lawless, "I have traveled a long road to get to where I am now, a place where I always belonged as a strong, proud, capable woman. I am, in all respects, legally, and physically female. 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."**In stark contrast to the LPGA and LDA, the U.S. Golf Association has a gender policy which expressly includes gender reassigned females in its tournaments and activities. The International Olympic Committee, since 2004, has included transpeople in Olympic events. Likewise, the NCAA has a policy of inclusion for transpeople. ** **"I could participate in female wrestling in international Olympic events but here in my own state, in my chosen profession, because of blatant prejudice, I am excluded and discriminated against," added Lawless. "Before I won the Re/Max Women's LDA Championship, the only requirement for participation was that I was over 18 and female. As a result of my winning the tournament, which was based on my skill, and not my gender, they changed the rules to require that I be born female. This is not only unlawful, it is shameful." ** *"It is important to fight intolerance wherever it rears its ugly head. This unlawful activity harkens back to the days when African-Americans were precluded from qualifying and playing in professional golf tournaments. As Americans, we must always be vigilant against the poison and hatred bred from prejudice and discrimination. America was founded on the principal of tolerance for differences in beliefs and, over time, that principal has been recognized to include protection against discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion, etc. The LPGA can't be permitted to violate California law. It is important for all Americans to protect against prejudice and preserve anti-discrimination laws; who know when they may find themselves in need of their protection," added Dolan.