LPGA preparing to allow transgender membership


LPGA Tour _newORLANDO, Fla. – Future LPGA pros may no longer be required to be female at birth.

A monumental change in the association’s constitutional bylaws is imminent with the LPGA facing a federal lawsuit filed last month by a transgender woman in a California district court.

The LPGA is preparing to propose in a player meeting Nov. 30 at the LPGA Tour Championship in Orlando that its “female at birth” requirement for membership be changed to allow transgender membership.

The constitutional change requires approval of two-thirds of the LPGA’s membership.

In a special “one-agenda item” meeting at the Hana Bank Championship in South Korea at the end of October, LPGA players were briefed on the upcoming vote and the vital nature of it. According to sources familiar with the meeting, LPGA players were told the “female at birth” provision was created “in a different time” and would be a significant challenge to defend legally today. Players were also informed that the International Olympic Committee, the U.S. Golf Association, the Ladies European Tour and the British Ladies Golf Union are among sports organizations that have already amended their bylaws to allow transgender participation.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan and the LPGA’s executive committee are expected to recommend the change to the association’s bylaws.

While Whan wouldn’t confirm that a proposed change is ready for a vote when GolfChannel.com spoke with him Wednesday, he acknowledged the issue will be addressed with the full membership during the LPGA Tour Championship.

“We’re having our end-of-the-year players meeting, and this will be a topic,” Whan said. “We’ll explain the lawsuit, our options, and we’ll discuss my perspective and the LPGA staff’s perspective.”

The proposed change to the LPGA constitution is a direct response to a lawsuit filed on Oct. 12 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

Lana Lawless, a 57-year-old retired police officer who had gender-reassignment surgery five years ago, filed the suit, alleging her civil rights were violated when the LPGA “rejected” her application for tour membership. Lawless also filed suit against the Long Drivers of America, alleging that organization adopted the LPGA’s “female at birth” rule to exclude her participation. Lawless won the women’s world long drive championship in 2008 but was ruled ineligible to participate this year. She once played to a 1-handicap as an amateur.

Christopher Dolan, Lawless’ attorney, said Wednesday that the LPGA has 15 days left to answer the lawsuit, which requires the LPGA admit or deny the suit’s allegations. The suit claims the LPGA and its sponsors have engaged in discrimination based on sex/transgender status in violation of California's anti-discrimination laws.

Dolan said LPGA attorneys notified him of the imminent players’ vote on the bylaws.

“When they told me they were going to put this up to a vote of their members, I said that’s insane,” Dolan said. “To put whether you want to continue to discriminate to a vote, that’s insane. It would be similar, in another time, to voting on whether you want to let black people into your organization. From my perspective, the law’s perfectly clear.”

Dolan said if the LPGA denies the allegations in its answer to the lawsuit, he will seek an injunction to prevent the LPGA from staging events in California, including next spring’s Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA’s first major of the year. The LPGA staged three tournaments in California this year.

“If the members vote to continue to act unlawfully, we will seek to stop them from doing business in California,” Dolan said.

Even if the LPGA changes its bylaws, Dolan said the lawsuit will continue to be pursued as Lawless seeks damages for interference with her ability to earn a living as a professional golfer. Lawless is also prohibited by LPGA rules from becoming a teaching member of the association.