The Professional Disc Golf Association announced new gender eligibility guidelines that will effectively block transgender women from competing in the FPO division at Pro Majors starting in 2023. The Disc Golf Pro Tour announced that it is adopting the same policy for all of its Elite Series and Silver events.
The new PDGA gender-eligibility policy for PDGA Pro Majors – currently, Champions Cup, US Women’s Disc Golf Championships, Pro World Championships, and the European Open – says that transgender women are only eligible to compete “if they began medical transition during Tanner Stage 21 or before age 12, whichever is later,” which requires that an eligible transgender female must have begun taking testosterone suppressants before going through puberty as a male. This copies the controversial guidelines set by FINA, the international swimming federation, over the summer.
This will bar Natalie Ryan, Chloe Alice, and other transgender women from competing in the FPO Division on the professional tour. Ryan won two DGPT events in 2022, the Discraft Great Lakes Open and MVP Open. She faced harassment online to the point that the DGPT shut down its comment sections on Disc Golf Network livestreams.
“I’m incredibly saddened and hurt by this announcement,” Ryan wrote on Instagram. “I did everything I could to speak on behalf of inclusion, but the PDGA Board of Directors had a decision made before I ever set foot in that room.”
In some areas, the PDGA’s guidelines are stricter than FINA’s, which are currently the strictest of any Olympic sports federation. The PDGA requires that any transgender women must have a testosterone blood serum concentration of less than 2.0 nmol/L for 24 months in order to compete in any female-protected division, below the 2.5 nmol/L threshold used by FINA, UCI (cycling), and World Triathlon. Normal female testosterone levels range from 0.5 to 2.4 nmol/L concentrations.
Transgender women that meet the <2.0 nmol/L threshold over 24 months are still eligible to compete in FPO at PDGA Amateur Majors, Pro Master Majors, and all other PDGA events sanctioned at the A-Tier level and below. The current PDGA transgender policy sets the testosterone limit at 10 nmol/L.
The PDGA board’s decision — a split vote — followed review of a medical subcommittee report that cited scientific research and opinion articles that conclude transgender women on hormone therapy maintain strength advantages over cisgender women.
“It is important to establish policies that are both inclusive and fair,” concluded the medical committee report. “In terms of fairness, no transgender person should ever be excluded. Also, with respect to fairness, the science is clear; males have a natural advantage over women. Thus, while it would be unfair for transgender women to compete against cisgender women, there would be no question of unfairness if transgender men or transgender women were to compete in the mixed divisions at any amateur or pro level, or in any age protected divisions that they are qualified for.”
The PDGA also shared the results of a survey that asked for members’ opinions on transgender participation. More than 33,000 people completed the survey. Across the board, a majority of respondents – including in subcategories like women and women who predominantly compete in DGPT events2 – indicated that they disagreed with transgender women participating with other women in sports.
In response to the statement “Transgender women should be allowed to compete with other women in disc golf and in other sports,” 67% of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed. Among female respondents that indicated they primarily competed at DGPT events3, 80% disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement.
Few touring professional disc golfers have openly discussed the topic. Some FPO players including Paige Pierce and Ella Hansen have spoken out in support of transgender women competing in the division; others were anonymously quoted in a Quillette article voicing the opposite view. Nikko Locastro posted a comment on the PDGA Facebook page criticizing the organization for allowing transgender women in the FPO division.
“The decision to change eligibility criteria at our events was not made lightly,” wrote the PDGA. “The PDGA Global Board of Directors worked tirelessly over the last ten months to study this issue and debated and discussed this topic for 11.5 hours on the second day of the Fall Summit. After carefully reviewing ten different proposals, the PDGA Global Board of Directors voted to update the eligibility criteria for gender-based divisions. The PDGA Global Board of Directors cares deeply about the culture and history of the sport of disc golf. From the beginning, disc golf has strived to be an inclusive sport that welcomes people from all walks of life.
“The PDGA Global Board of Directors values fairness and inclusion and will continue to evaluate and update this policy as additional science and data become available, and as additional sporting organizations around the world continue to look closely at this issue.”
“Trans participation wasn’t a problem until I was successful,” Ryan told Ultiworld Disc Golf. “I feel broken in the wake of these announcements, but one thing is clear to me: this decision was to force me off the tour, not to make it more fair. The research they used to justify this is a joke, and the fact that they used public opinion to make policy is downright lazy at best. I will prove their shortsighted hatred in court.”
The PDGA becomes one of the first global sports organizations to require transgender women to have begun medical transition before puberty. Scientists believe that transgender women that transition after puberty retain strength advantages over cisgender women, with hormone therapy reducing but not eliminating those advantages.
The update to the PDGA policy followed new guidance from the International Olympic Committee issued last year that called on individual sports federations to determine their own guidelines for transgender inclusion. The guidelines call for the use of 10 principles, including inclusion, fairness, no presumption of advantage, and an evidence-based approach, in creating gender-based guidelines. Previously, the IOC recommended a set limit on testosterone levels in order for transgender women to compete across all sports.
Sports governing bodies have taken varying approaches on the issue, ranging from strict regulations like FINA’s and the PDGA’s to maximally inclusive policies like USA Ultimate’s, which allows players to compete in the division in which they feel most comfortable, with no testosterone limits or other restrictions on transgender women.
The new PDGA rules go into effect on January 1, 2023.