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California competition bars transgender and intersex surfer, then reverses course

Sasha Jane Lowerson Trans Surfer Barred From Competition Huntington Beach
Instagram @sasha_jane_lowerson

Sasha Jane Lowerson was initially excluded from a longboard competition, but then the organizer heard that would violate state law. She's decided not to compete, however.

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A surfing competition in Huntington Beach, Calif., has reversed its decision not to allow Sasha Jane Lowerson, a transgender and intersex woman from Australia, to participate in the women’s division.

Lowerson decided to enter the Huntington Beach Longboard Pro contest, to be held Saturday, after seeing a call online for more women contenders, she told The Inertia.She had previously contacted the event’s organizer, Todd Messick, but hadn’t heard back from him.

Then Messick posted a video to Instagram April 25 saying, “Right now we’re going to support biological males and biological females in their divisions respectively. If you are born a female, you enter into the women’s. If you are born a male, you enter into the men’s. You guys can live however you want to do in life. That’s not for me to decide. It is for me to decide what’s fair and not fair for the American Longboarding Association.” That is in keeping with the International Surfing Association’s policy, he added.

However, the ISA allows trans women to compete in women’s events if they meet certain criteria, including that their testosterone is below a certain level. Lowerson “was really disappointed and surprised” by her exclusion, she told the BBC. “You can’t cherry-pick the rulebook. If you’re going to use the rulebook, you use all of it.”

Sabrina Brennan, an activist with Surf Equity, contacted Messick about the policy but didn’t get a response, so she notified the California Coastal Commission and met with some of its members. “I didn’t have to make a big scene about it or present a bulletproof case,” Brennan told The Inertia. “[Commission members] understand the coast is for everyone. The ocean is for everyone. Some guy can’t block access based on somebody’s gender identity.”

Commissioners spoke to Messick and then sent a letter to him. “In our conversation, you committed to following the ISA transgender policy rule and allowing transgender women to compete in the women’s division if they can demonstrate they meet the criteria outlined in the ISA policy,” it reads. “Following through with this commitment and ensuring an inclusive and safe competition space for all competitors will allow for equitable access to coastal waters and will ensure that the event is consistent with the public access, recreation, and environmental justice policies of the Coastal Act. It will also qualify the event for a temporary event exemption under the Coastal Act. Thus no additional authorization will be required from the Commission.”

It cited a portion of the Coastal Act, a state law: “No person in the State of California, on the basis of race, national origin, ethnic group identification, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, color, genetic information, or disability, shall be unlawfully denied full and equal access to the benefits of, or be unlawfully subjected to discrimination under any program or activity that is conducted, operated, or administered pursuant to this division.”

Messick was “surprised by the amount of anger” around his decision, he told the BBC. But there were “a lot of people very appreciative of me speaking up,” he added.

“For me, I was trying to do the right thing,” he said. “It wasn’t something I ever expected to have to deal with, really, not in our little longboard community.”

Lowerson has decided not to enter the Huntington Beach competition after all. But she has found acceptance in other surfing organizations, she said. “Three years ago I had just started my transition, and I made a phone call to Surfing Australia,” she told the BBC. “I was really well-received. They were very forthcoming on being inclusive and being progressive.” She helped the group craft rules allowing trans women to compete in women’s events.

She was born intersex, something she didn’t know until many years later and just revealed last year. “I kept that to myself for a few years because I felt that it would muddy the waters,” she told The Inertia. She worried it might lead to policies that let her participate in women’s events, but not trans surfers who weren’t born intersex.

Huntington Beach, a Los Angeles suburb known as “Surf City USA,” has become well-known for far-right politics over the past few years. Its City Council passed a law in February banning the display of any nongovernmental flag, including the Pride flag, on city property unless there is a unanimous council vote to raise a given flag. The council has also removed language condemning hate crimes from government documents and created a new board to regulate public library materials.

Lowerson told the BBC she would continue to enter women’s events. “I’ve inadvertently become a poster child for trans women in surfing,” she said. “Not that I wanted to do that, but it just kind of happened.”

To The Inertia, she added, “I don’t go in [events] to win. I go in them to hang out and meet people. But they’ve kind of become pretty shit now. I can surf good enough, and I just go in the events when it suits.”

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.