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Transgendered Golfer Lana Lawless Takes on LPGA

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on October 13, 2010 3:15 PM

A bit of well-tended sod might get torn up in the coming weeks as the result of a ground-breaking lawsuit filed in San Francisco on October 12. Lana Lawless, a transgendered woman and 2008 Long Drive golf champion, is suing the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) to be allowed to compete. Currently, the rules of the LPGA require anyone competing in its tournaments to be "born a woman."

Dolan Law Firm, which filed suit on behalf of Lana Lawless, is charging the LPGA and co-defendants the Long Drivers of America, CVS Pharmacy and other corporate sponsors violated California civil rights law (the Unruh Act), unfair business practices laws and illegally interfered with Lawless's economic interests. The complaint seeks unspecified general and punitive damages. Although Lawless was the 2008 champion in a LDA long drive competition, the association changed its rules to conform to those of the LPGA, thus preventing her from playing in future competitions.

Although Lawless is taking an unprecedented swing at opening up the LPGA to transgendered players, the question of admitting these sportswomen is not a new one, and has already been addressed by other sports' governing bodies. For example, as The New York Times reports, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been allowing transgendered athletes to compete since 2004. The IOC only requires the competitors to have undergone reassignment surgery and to have completed a minimum of two years of post-operative hormone replacement therapy. Golf associations who currently allow transgendered athletes to compete include the United States Golf Association, the Ladies Golf Union in Britain and the Ladies European Golf Tour.

Golf fans know how important sponsorships are to players. According to The Times, Lawless's third place finish in the 2007 long drive competition and 2008 championship won her a sponsorship with Bang Golf. The sponsorship was lost when Lawless was found ineligible to compete in 2010 due to the rule change. "It was devastating to me," Lawless said of the rule change. "How can they say that rule was not changed specifically directed at me if you have a rule that allows me to play and you come back and you change it?"

In addition to damages, the suit seeks an injunction to prevent the LPGA from holding any tournaments or qualifying events in the state of California until the rules comply with what the plaintiff says are the applicable civil rights laws. It may take both this lawsuit and some time to change the thinking of an organization which still refers to its athletes as "ladies."

"It's an issue of access and opportunity," Lawless said in a telephone interview with The Times Tuesday. "I've been shut out because of prejudice."

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