As a female powerlifter, I'm used to going up against a challenge by myself. When I spoke out in defense of saving women's sports for women, though, I was surprised to find myself standing alone.
Right now, there is a strong push to allow men to participate in women's sports. But the truth is that, if we let that happen, there will be men's sports, and there will be coed sports. There will no longer be women's sports.
This should not be a partisan or religious issue. It's common sense. But even though there are glowing news stories about men competing (and winning) against women, the news isn't covering the women who lose. And for a long time, people weren't speaking up.
That's why, in 2019, I started Save Women's Sports, an organization dedicated to sharing this other side of the story. Women's sports give women crucial opportunities to find empowerment through training and competitions — something that everyone should agree is a good thing.
I started powerlifting at a time when I felt powerless. I had survived domestic abuse, but it left me with panic attacks. It felt like I had lost control of my body and my thoughts. But that changed when I hit the gym. I trained for several hours five or six days a week and developed a nutritional plan that was nearly as rigorous as the training.
Gradually I've built up my strength — and gained the confidence and discipline to work through my anxiety without succumbing to panic. Since I started powerlifting, I've gone through some of the hardest times in my life. I have lost close family members and suffered a miscarriage. But I did not give up. And through the continued training, I've grown stronger and more resilient.
If radical activists have their way, though, other women won't have that opportunity. I learned this when I showed up at the USA Powerlifting Minnesota Women's State Championships in 2019. I was ready to lift. I was ready for the competition. But I wasn't ready for the protests — over 90 minutes of shouting, just because we were women competing in a women's division.
The protesters were angry because USA Powerlifting had decided that a male powerlifter who identified as a woman would not be allowed to compete in the women's division. In other words, the organization reserved women's sports for women. This sparked the protests, which were so disruptive that they ruined the event and nearly broke my confidence.
But not quite. I knew this was not right. Women's sports are for women. There is a reason why women's sports exist. Biologically, men and women are fundamentally different. Men have greater muscle mass and bone density as well as different bone structures. Their cardiovascular systems are more powerful. So, when men and women go head-to-head in a sport, the man has a natural advantage — and that advantage does not go away just because that man claims a female gender identity or manipulates hormones.
I have seen that excelling in a sport can do wonders for a woman's confidence. I have also seen that being beaten by a man in her own sport tears a woman down.
In Connecticut, several brave female high school athletes filed a lawsuit against their state athletic conference, which lets males compete against them in sports, routinely winning regional and state competitions and stripping girls of victories, opportunities, and visibility. Furthermore, in March, the state of Idaho passed a law protecting women's sports, which triggered the ACLU to try to punish the state. It has demanded the NCAA pull all sporting events out of Idaho until the state allows males to compete against women.
Now, finally, it seems as if women have had enough. More than 300 NCAA, Olympic and professional female athletes have rallied to send a letter asking the NCAA to stand up for women's sports — and to stop punishing states that try to preserve women's athletics. And they're taking heat for it.
A fringe, extremist group called Outsports published the list of signatures to bully, harass and intimidate these courageous female athletes just because they stood up for women's rights. I know abuse when I see it. But this abuse won't stop us from speaking up for the truth.
I've learned from athletics that sometimes you have to stand up alone. But some things require a team, and defending women's sports is one of those things. All across the nation, brave female athletes are starting to stand up for their rights to fair competition. There is no team I would rather be on.
Beth Stelzer, of Benson, Minn., is a housewife, amateur powerlifter and founder of Save Women's Sports.