Trans woman's inclusion in female category of powerlifting championship in B.C. questioned by protesters
The 2023 Canadian Powerlifting Championships in Richmond, B.C., became ground zero for the debate over the inclusion of transgender women in female sport categories on Thursday, when members and supporters of the International Consortium on Female Sport made their stance on the matter clear.
The group, which advocates for a "dedicated category for athletes born female," held signs and wore stickers reading "XY ≠ XX," in protest of the policy that allowed a transgender woman from Calgary to compete in the event, where she won the bronze medal in her weight category.
"We were there because there has been a policy capture across Canada allowing ... people born male to self-identify into women's sports," said ICFS founder Linda Blade.
The Canadian Powerlifting Union's trans inclusion policy says athletes can self-identify into the category of their choosing.
"At both recreational and competitive levels, an individual may participate in their expressed and identified gender category," reads the policy.
Anne Andres, the transgender powerlifter who won the bronze medal during the event, said all but one fellow competitor was supportive of her participation, and that the presence of the ICFS group had little impact.
'Nobody was tolerating their malarkey'
"I noticed there was a bunch of signs there, but any time I approached the platform, the rest of the powerlifting community held up bigger signs to block out everything," said Andres.
"Nobody was tolerating their malarkey."
According to Blade, the ICFS action was meant to draw attention to policies that they say elevate transgender women inclusion over other considerations.
She said the signs were not a personal attack.
Organizations are grappling with how to balance inclusion, fairness and safety in sporting categories.
Critics opposed to including transgender women in female categories cite fairness, arguing that the retained advantages of going through male puberty — increased size, muscle mass and cardiovascular capacity, for instance — cannot be mitigated through surgery and testosterone inhibitors.
They argue including transgender women will deny people assigned female at birth the opportunities in a category that was created to exclude male bodies.
Those who support the participation of transgender women in female categories say inclusion is paramount, and people should be able to compete in the gender category of their choosing.
Last year, World Aquatics (formerly FINA), which governs the sport of swimming internationally, announced it will only allow transgender women who began transitioning before the age of 12 to compete in high-level international swimming competitions. It has also proposed a new "open" category.
The policy is different from that of Swimming Canada, which domestically allows athletes to self-identify into a gender category.
Inclusion policies are complex: Swimming Canada CEO
Swimming Canada CEO Ahmed El-Awadi said considerations around transgender women inclusion in female categories are complex, and the science evolving.
"It's a really challenging subject," he said. "Both sides of this issue are equally passionate, and it will be difficult to find common ground."
Andres says she is aware that transgender women probably have an advantage over athletes assigned female at birth.
"While the science does appear pretty clear that transgender women athletes do appear to have a sustained advantage having gone through male puberty, even after having testosterone blocking surgery, that's not the conversation we're having here," she said.
"Down in the [United] States, they said that the difference is too much and they banned transwomen athletes. Whereas in Canada they said yes, there is a difference, perhaps significant, however, they would much rather be inclusionary than say that people simply aren't allowed to lift," said Andres.
CBC reached out to event organizers, but they declined to be interviewed.