The Olympics Allows Transgender Athletes, So Why Won't CrossFit?

A transgender woman contender is suing CrossFit Inc. for denying her participation in the Women's Division.

Chloie Jonsson. (Photo: Facebook)

Mar 13, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Stephanie Mercado is a journalism student at Cal State-Fullerton and formerly worked at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

CrossFit incorporates high-intensity interval training, power lifting, and Olympic weight lifting—but the popular workout's creators aren't taking any cues from the International Olympic Committee when it comes to allowing trans women to compete.

That's why a self-proclaimed "competitive exerciser" is suing the fitness company for $2.5 million in damages for denying her recognition as a female and excluding her from CrossFit's Women's Division.

Chloie Jonsson, 34, is legally identified as a female in the state of California—even her birth certificate says so after she had all her documents legally changed—but the personal trainer was born with a male body. That's why, for nearly a year, she's been denied the opportunity to compete in CrossFit’s Women’s Division in its Fittest on Earth games. Jonsson was told that she would “need to compete in the Men’s Division.”

CrossFit's lawyer says Jonsson's genetic makeup "confers a physical and physiological advantage over women."

Jonsson underwent male-to-female gender-reassignment surgery in 2006, something she'd been wanting to do since coming to understand her gender identity at age 15. Standing at 5’4,” she has been undergoing hormone therapy since before her surgery, Jonsson's lawyer Waukeen McCoy says, adding that she has no competitive advantage over a biological female. The CrossFit enthusiast has worked hard to succeed in the sport and is sponsored by Project X, a brand that embraces and empowers athletes from all walks of life.

Actually, she’s willingly put herself at a disadvantage in the sport considering that female hormone therapy is intended to lower the level of testosterone that consequently decreases muscle mass and increases body fat, McCoy said. Jonsson, who never planned on revealing her transgender identity, is filing the $2.5 million lawsuit against the elite fitness group.

"If I am going to be forced to out myself," Johnson told CNN, she wanted it to be on her own terms, "not because of a company's discriminatory policies."

CrossFit recently responded to Jonsson's lawyer in writing, stating it was not “being bigot[ed]” or discriminating against her as a trans woman but simply protecting the right of athletes to a level playing field.

CrossFit Inc.’s general counsel, Dale Saran, writes:

“Competing in a sport is very different from the conclusory statement in the first paragraph of your letter, that ‘[t]hus, by all accounts, both physically and legally, Chloie Jonnson is a female.’ This is simply wrong as a matter of human biology and if you can’t see that, there really isn’t much to talk about.”

Saran continues to lecture on the basics of human biology, saying that Jonnson still possesses a Y chromosome—what is commonly thought to signify a male. But that's a far cry from how the athletic world sees gender, and particularly transgender competitors whose bodies undergo massive changes.

At the start of the modern Olympics in the 19th century, only male participants were allowed to compete. Women were welcomed to participate at the 1900 Paris Games, and decades later, tests ensued to verify that men were not disguising themselves as females to gain a competitive advantage in their sport.

In the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, the games formally adopted sex chromatin testing (buccal smear) for gender verification purposes based on the principle that females only possess two X chromosomes, while males have one X and one Y chromosome. This was deemed an “unreliable” means of testing after eight women were surprised to find a Y chromosome in their genetic makeup.

The International Olympic Committee discontinued testing in 1999 to then, five years later, expressly allow both male-to-female and female-to-male transgender people to compete in the games so long as they met these three requirements:

  • Surgical anatomical changes have been completed, including external genitalia changes and gonadectomy.
  • Legal recognition of their assigned sex has been conferred by the appropriate official authorities.
  • Hormonal therapy appropriate for the assigned sex has been administered in a verifiable manner and for a sufficient length of time to minimise gender-related advantages in sport competitions.

If the Olympics, an age-old tradition, can recognize the need for this policy enacted in 2003, CrossFit Inc., established in 2000, should be capable of adapting one as well.

The UCSF Center of Excellence for Transgender Health’s community mobilization specialist, Danielle Castro, says California—one of 13 states with anti-discrimination laws for transgender people—is progressive, but people are not. It is ultimately up to the individual behind the company.

“It’s a transphobic, abusive, narrow-minded perspective that our society needs to go up against and change,” Castro said.