A male powerlifter who has held multiple titles, including that of New Zealand’s Strongest Man, has applied to enter the Global Powerlifting New Zealand Day of the Deadlifts competition in the women’s category as a protest against gender self-identification in sport.
Dale Shepherd, 52, has been weightlifting for over four decades and participating in competitive weightlifting events since 2016. He has won numerous competitions, held the All Time Deadlift World Record for nearly six years, and currently holds nearly two dozen national records, according to The Global Powerlifting Committee (GPC) of New Zealand. In 2016, he placed in the top two spots at the 2016 Nationals, and took four at the 2022 Nationals. In 2010, Shepherd won the title of New Zealand’s Strongest Man.
Shepherd is also the very first New Zealander to break a GPC World Record, something he wants others, including biological women, to have the opportunity to do.
He is aiming to participate in the women’s category for the June deadlift event in order to protest policies which allow men who self-declare a female gender identity to compete against women.
“It is important to me that both transgender athletes and biological women both have the ability to compete in sports,” Shepherd told Reduxx.
“However, regardless of hormone treatment such as giving a biological male estrogen – the hormone primarily responsible for female characteristics – it does not totally negate all the years that male has had with higher testosterone levels resulting in greater bone density, tendon and muscle strength. As such biological women are at a significant disadvantage,” he says.
“To maintain equity and preserve women’s sports, transgenders and biological women must have their own separate classes or eventually all women’s sports will be overtaken by biological men who now identify as a woman.”
On April 14, women’s rights group Save Women’s Sports Australasia, which opposes sex self-identification policies in sports, shared their support for Shepherd’s demonstration, attracting over 1,000 ‘likes’ from Twitter users around the world.
Just 24 hours after the tweet began to circulate widely, GPCNZ sent Shepherd an email outlining specifics of his eligibility. In what appears to have been a desperate scramble to prevent Shepherd from participating, the Global Powerlifting Committee had updated their website just after Shepherd submitted his application form, as evidenced by website archives.
In their 2023 Rulebook, the Global Powerlifting Committee of New Zealand (GPCNZ) recognizes self-declared gender identity. In a section of the guidelines titled “Transgender Athletes,” GPCNZ states that “gender is presented on a spectrum” and that the organization “respects the autonomy of the individual and how they identify.”
An archived version of the official website dated March 30 does not display the GPCNZ rules for trans-identifying competitors, instead leaning heavily on self-identification. But, after submitting his application and declaring himself a “woman” for the purposes of the competition, Shepherd was hastily sent an email and told he was not allowed to self-identify as transgender and must have been on estrogen for at least one year to compete.
In the message he received, Shepherd was told that: “One year of hormone therapy is appropriate transitional time before a (MTF) athlete may compete in the women’s division.”
Shepherd responded today by contesting that the GPC Rulebook describes vastly different criteria for athletic participation based on an individual’s sex.
“I think there are some legal issues here for GPC. If they require only one class of athlete to provide medical records to confirm hormone replacement therapy but do not require any other class of competitor to do so, that would constitute discrimination. No other athlete in GPC is required to be drug tested or supply medical information on such matters,” Shepherd wrote in his e-mail response.
As per the rulebook, Biological females who “transition to male” have no such medical requirements, and “are eligible to compete in the male category without restriction.” GPCNZ does not define whether the administration of exogenous testosterone is included under the vague term “transition.”
However, males who are seeking to compete in the female category are subject to certain restrictions laid out by the IOC Consensus Meeting on Sex Reassignment and Hyperandrogenism in November 2015.
“The athlete has declared that her gender identity is female. The declaration cannot be changed, for sporting purposes, for a minimum of four years. The athlete must have undergone hormone treatment (if medically indicated) for at least 12 months prior to her first competition … Documentation by a medical professional is adequate. To make this guideline more inclusive, transgendered people who are not taking hormones (medically contraindicated or otherwise) will go under complete confidential review,” state the guidelines for male participants in the female category.
Additionally, the GPCNZ requires all members and participants to adhere to a Code of Conduct published on their website. The first criteria is “Equality,” which mentions certain protected characteristics.
Criteria regarding the protection of “gender identities” takes the top place on the guidance, coming before recommendations on “Dignity” and “Fair Play.”
“No discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion or political opinion shall be tolerated,” states GPCNZ’s ethical guidelines. “When appointing persons in a position of trust, all gender identities should be considered.”
Shepherd is currently awaiting a response from the GPC, and fully intends to pursue competing as a female powerlifter in June. If he is allowed to proceed with his protest, he will be the second male powerlifter to put his strength towards demonstrating for fairness in sport.
Last month, Reduxx reported on a similar stunt pulled by Avi Silverberg, a powerlifting coach who has worked with Team Canada. Silverberg self-identified as a woman to participate in the women’s category in March at the Heroes Classic Powerlifting Meet held in Lethbridge, Alberta. Silverberg was attempting to highlight the unfair advantage males have when competing in women’s athletics.
The Canadian Powerlifting Union (CPU) announced a gender self-identification policy earlier this year, explicitly allowing any males to participate in women’s competitions on the basis of “gender” alone, and Silverbook took advantage of the opportunity to highlight the absurdity in the policy.
The issue of men identifying into women’s sporting categories has triggered a heated international debate which has resulted in public scrutiny of policies which prioritize a self-declared gender identity over biological sex. Last month, in a shift from recent years, sporting authority World Athletics president Sebastian Coe banned trans-identifying male athletes who have undergone a male puberty from competing against women.
“We have taken decisive action to protect the female category in sport, and to do so by restricting the participation of transgender and DSD athletes,” Coe said. “The majority of those consulted stated transgender athletes should not be competing in the female category.”
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