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LPGA drops female at birth clause for members

ORLANDO, Fla. – The LPGA voted a monumental change to its constitutional bylaws Tuesday that will no longer require its members to be “female at birth.”

The move to amend the bylaws to allow transgender membership was easily passed in a vote in a players meeting at the Grand Cypress Hyatt just down the road from the site of this week’s LPGA Tour Championship. first reported two weeks ago that the bylaw change was in the works.

Michelle Ellis, the LPGA president, confirmed that commissioner Mike Whan and the LPGA Board of Player Directors recommended the change to the bylaws. The change was a direct response to a lawsuit filed on Oct. 12 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

'Steps will be taken in the coming weeks to make the appropriate changes to the language of the constitution,' Whan said in a statement.

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.

“Mike explained the situation, and players understood what had to be done,” Ellis said. “There isn’t a lot more we can say about it right now. We’re trying to handle this the best we can.”

Whan and legal counsel informed players 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. In Tuesday's meeting, LPGA staff also explained the potential legal ramifications should the LPGA decide to hold firm to the “female at birth” provision and fight the suit.

Christopher Dolan, the attorney for Lawless, told that if the LPGA fights the suit 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.

Details of what will constitute transgender membership for LPGA players, and whether the LPGA will adopt Olympic definitions, have yet to be worked out.

 'This was the first hurdle,' Ellis said. 'This had to be done first.'