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MX News Update 2024

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California Coastal Commission requires surf competition to follow ISA policy for transgender athletes

Photo: Renato Sánchez Lozada//Unsplash


The slowness

The California Coastal Commission delivered a letter to the American Longboard Association (ALA) this week regarding a ban on transgender women competing in the women’s division of the upcoming HB Pro competition. In the letter, the Commission pointed to language in the Coastal Act that a ban would not be consistent with public access, recreation and environmental justice policies, consistent with state policy. The Commission’s statement(s) marks another point in the divide regarding the inclusion of transgender athletes.

The recent conflict arose when surfer Sasha Jane Lowerson contacted event organizer and Orange County shaper Todd Messick to ask if there were spots available for her to participate on May 11. Messick did not respond to her question, but did share a video online the next day. day, stating that more women were needed to participate in the event. That prompted Lowerson to submit her entry, but she was never told whether or not she could participate. On April 25, Messick shared another video outlining ALA’s policy on including transgender surfers, though he reportedly still had not communicated with Lowerson, who paid an entrance fee.

“I want to make it clear that our policy is highly aligned with the ISA,” he said in his statement. “Right now, we’re going to support biological men and biological women in their divisions, respectively. If you are born a woman, you end up with women. If you are born a man, you end up with men. You can live whatever you want in life. That’s not for me to decide. It is fair for me to decide what is fair and not fair for the American Longboarding Association.”

But the ISA policy Messick was referring to was rolled out in 2023, paving the way for transgender athletes to compete in the gender-based division they identify. Sabrina Brennan of Surf Equity was made aware of Messick’s policy. She then contacted him and instructed him to review the ISA policy, but did not hear back. Brennan quickly decided to take the matter to the California Coastal Commission.

“Wow! What a way to turn this whole thing around and support your story,” Messick wrote in the comments after Surf Equity posted about the ALA’s transgender policy, further emphasizing his stance on the contest “The American Longboard Association is all about supporting all people equally, with love and acceptance! SashaJane is welcome to surf at all our events in her organic division to do the same. Stand up for who you are and stay true to your mission. This planet is the most unequal planet in the universe. Our position is simple.

Meanwhile, Brennan met with officials at the Commission’s regional office and continued to urge them to take action.

“I didn’t have to make a big scene or present a bulletproof case,” Brennan said The slowness. “They (the Commission) understand that the coast is for everyone. The ocean is for everyone. Someone cannot block access based on someone’s gender identity.”

The Commission finally sent their letter to Messick on May 7, after apparently speaking with him.

“During our conversation, you committed to following the ISA’s transgender policy and allowing transgender women to compete in the women’s division if they can demonstrate that they meet the criteria set out in the ISA policy,” it reads to read. “Delivering on this commitment and ensuring an inclusive and safe competition space for all participants will enable equitable access to coastal waters and ensure the event is consistent with the Coastal Act’s public access, recreation and environmental justice policies. The event also qualifies for a temporary event exemption under the Coastal Act. Therefore, no additional approval from the Commission will be required.”

The Commission’s letter notes that Messick and the ALA’s original position (issued on April 25) regarding transgender athletes was not consistent with the Coastal Act or ISA or WSL policies seeking equal access. The Commission has cited Article 30013 of the Coastal Act, which states this “no person in the State of California shall, on the basis of race, national origin, ethnic group identification, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, color, genetic information, or disability, be unlawfully denied full and equal access to the benefits of, or be unlawfully subjected to discrimination under any program or activity conducted, operated, or administered pursuant to this section….”

The Coastal Commission plans and regulates the use of land and water in coastal areas.

Messick has not yet publicly acknowledged that the ALA has changed its policy. We have reached out to him for comment or further clarification, but have not yet received a response.

After news of the letter was made public Wednesday, Lowerson said The slowness she still had not been contacted about participating in the May 11 contest. Anyway, she decided not to go in.

The Australian athlete, who was born intersex, worked with Surfing Australia to establish policies for the inclusion of transgender athletes in competitions, boardriding clubs and more. In 2022, she made international headlines when she won the Women’s Open and Logger divisions of the Western Australian State Titles. That moment quickly prompted the ISA to adopt its current policy, with the WSL following shortly after — a decision the league acknowledged in 2022 “should evolve over time as we receive feedback and new research see in the field.”

In 2023, Lowerson publicly shared for the first time that she was born intersex — a term describing people born with reproductive anatomy that does not fit the markers of male and female gender. According to many sources, including the National Library of Medicine, the Center for American Progress, and the United Nations, approximately 1.7 percent of the human population was born intersex.

In Lowerson’s case, she tells The slowness she didn’t hit puberty until she was in her late twenties, and doctors only found out years later that she had been born intersex. When they performed a non-invasive scan, they noticed scar tissue from a procedure doctors had performed at birth without her parents’ knowledge.

“I kept that to myself for a few years because I felt like it would muddy the waters,” explaining that she worried policymakers would view her particular experience as an exception to the rule. “We let Sasha surf,” she reasoned, “but we don’t let the other transgender surfers (who are not intersex) surf.”

Although the shaper and surfer has come into the public eye over the past two years, she says she has no plans to become a professional surfer, or to take anyone’s spot in competitions.

“I don’t enter competitions to win,” she said. “I go there to hang out and meet people. But they’ve gotten pretty nasty now. I can surf well enough and I just go to the events when it suits, I don’t try to qualify.”