SAN ANTONIO, Texas (KXAN) — A transgender archer winning a state championship resulted in a rule change that bars athletes like her from competing alongside women in Texas.
KellyJeanne Pyne beat only two other competitors to bring home the top prize in the senior women’s freestyle event at the Texas Field Archery Association’s (TFAA) Indoor State Tournament on Feb. 26 near Fort Worth.
According to the results posted online, Pyne finished only one point ahead of the runner-up, Linda Culwell, and 14 points higher than the other contestant, Theresa Murphy. However, she received 81 points for hitting the innermost ring of the target, denoted as an X on the scorecard — 14 points higher than Culwell and 12 more than Murphy got for hitting that part of the target.
“It felt good,” Pyne said about her win. “It felt like I had achieved something, and then that was rapidly taken away.”
After Pyne’s victory, three female archers submitted official protests to the results. The protests essentially objected to Pyne, a transgender woman, competing in the women’s events. According to the TFAA rules, a competitor can file a protest in writing within an hour after a shoot and pay a $50 filing fee, which is reimbursed if a protest committee rules in favor of the reporting party.
Pyne, a disabled Army veteran, said she had never received any official challenges to previous wins in either rifle shooting or archery competitions. She contends she holds no inherent physical advantage because of who she is when it comes to archery, pointing out, again, she only beat the second-place finisher by a point at the state tournament.
“The aim comes from your mental game: can you sit there and focus on that pin or on that dot and keep it in the center until the shot breaks?” Pyne said. “That’s your mental game. It really comes down to a mental game and practice.”
Jay Lindsey, the TFAA president, told KXAN in a phone conversation on April 6 that protests happen “rarely” and usually focus on “minor things,” like the types of equipment competitors use. He also said protests are normally resolved quickly and don’t require the TFAA naming a committee to look into them. However, the protests about Pyne’s state championship resulted in additional scrutiny.
“We’ve never had this particular issue protested before,” Lindsey said on the phone. He declined a later request to appear on camera for an interview discussing this process.
How TFAA reached its decision
The TFAA named four people to a protest committee, which spent three weeks looking into the complaints and finally emailed its decision to Pyne on April 5. The group decided unanimously Pyne was ineligible to receive the titles of TFAA Senior Female Freestyle Shooter of the Year and State Champion. They also ruled transgender archers could no longer participate in women’s events, but could still vie for men’s titles.
The committee’s three-page decision read, “In the event transgender male to female athletes are allowed to compete as women, the TFAA Protest Committee fears that in 20 years, all female records, in all sports may be held by transgender people, and no female records will be held by biological women. How is that fair to women?”
The protest committee’s chairman, Steve Bergh, declined an on-camera interview, as did the three women who filed the initial protests against Pyne’s win.
As part of their explanation, the committee members pointed to new guidelines from the International Olympic Committee that many LGBTQ+ advocates celebrated as opening the door to more inclusion of trans athletes in elite sports. The IOC framework asserts, among other things, that “athletes should not be deemed to have an unfair or disproportionate competitive advantage due to their sex variations, physical appearance and/or transgender status.”
While the TFAA protest committee’s report acknowledges that aspect of the guidance, the members argue it contradicts another section of the IOC framework that states sports organizations can make their own rules about who can participate “providing confidence that no athlete within a category has an unfair and disproportionate advantage.”
They contend in their report their Texas competition records show “men setting higher records in nearly every division and style of archery.” They also wrote they compared the scores of the archers at the most recent Olympic Games, and those showed the women would have failed to win a medal if they faced the men.
“This additional evidence supports the TFAA Protest Committee decision, that a ‘level playing field’ would not exist if Pyne was permitted to compete as a female,” the committee’s report read.
In the same event on the men’s side, the top three finishers at the TFAA state championship each scored a perfect score of 600. Pyne’s score of 590 would have put her in sixth on the men’s leaderboard.
The protest committee also backed up its decision about Pyne’s participation by citing a Texas law that now requires students to only play on teams that align with the biological sex listed on their birth certificates at the time of their birth.
“Even though the TFAA State Indoor Championship is not covered by that law,” the committee’s decision read, “the TFAA Protest Committee would apply the Texas law policy in this decision.”
The board governing the TFAA unanimously supported these arguments from the protest committee, which removed Pyne from the female division of competition. However, this decision directly contradicted the views expressed by the national organization overseeing competitions.
How national archery rules differ
The rules committee for the National Field Archery Association, or NFAA, voted twice on the Texas protests to Pyne’s win and overturned them both times. KXAN reached out Monday to the NFAA’s executive director to ask what actions the organization may take for Texas not following its decisions.
The NFAA does not yet have an official policy about transgender competitors, but new eligibility rules will go into effect June 1. According to the policy, transgender people can enter into events that match their gender identity if they transition before puberty. Some transgender adults, however, will have to clear some hurdles.
The policy reads that transgender men will be able to compete with other men if they declare their gender identity is male — no other criteria must be met.
To join a women’s competition, transgender women must undergo testing to determine if “her total testosterone level in serum has been below 10 nmol/L [nanomoles per liter] for at least 12 months prior to her first competition” as well as her “total testosterone level in serum must remain below 10 nmol/L throughout the period of desired eligibility.” Athletes must also declare their gender identity is female, and they cannot change that “for sporting purposes, for a minimum of four years.” Failing to comply with these standards will result in suspension from competition for a year, the new rules state.
Pyne said she would be able to meet those criteria to compete with other women at nationally-sanctioned events. However, Texas is not adopting those rules, so she said she instead plans to enter into the men’s competitions in the state.
“If everybody wants me to shoot as a male, OK, now you’re gonna have a woman beating you,” Pyne said, “because I’m a woman. However you want to look at it, I’m a woman, and I’m going to beat you.”
KXAN reached out three times to Bruce Cull, the NFAA’s executive director, to find out what the national organization plans to do since Texas will not follow its newly-adopted rules about transgender competitors. This story will be updated once we receive a response.
The new IOC framework calls for abandoning the practice of monitoring testosterone levels to determine an athlete’s eligibility.
“Criteria to determine disproportionate competitive advantage may, at times, require testing of an athlete’s performance and physical capacity,” the framework reads. “However, no athlete should be subject to targeted testing because of, or aimed at determining, their sex, gender identity and/or sex variations.”
If someone questions a competitor’s gender, the NFAA said its executive committee might name a licensed medical professional to “collect and test blood samples” to see if the aforementioned criteria are met. Appeals can be made, though.
KXAN asked Texas archery officials why the state won’t adopt these national standards and is instead moving forward with outright banning trans women from the female competitions.
“The TFAA Decision has resolved the matter and we have nothing to add or subtract from it,” read a text message from the protest committee’s chairman on April 8.
Transgender athletes on a national level
The pushback to Pyne’s archery championship in Texas echoes debates happening nationally in politics and in collegiate swimming. Lia Thomas, a former Westlake High School graduate and a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, made history in March when she became the first transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming championship. She beat the second-place finisher, Emma Weyant, by 1.75 seconds in the 500-yard freestyle event. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis later said he would issue a proclamation that would name Weyant as the actual winner of the race. Thomas followed NCAA and Ivy League rules since she began her transition in 2019 by starting hormone replacement therapy.
Pyne said she, too, questioned whether Thomas should compete against other female swimmers right now, and she pushed back on assumptions that their cases are similar.
“There’s no physical advantages in archery or any precision sport, so we’re on two ends of the spectrum in this case,” Pyne said. “I don’t believe that Lia should have been swimming in the women’s category either, but, I mean, people are gonna say that I’m kind of hateful now for being a transgender person and going against transgender people. But fair is fair, and that’s just not fair.”
Pyne said she would now like to work with USA Archery, the national governing body for Olympic archery, to develop a policy related to transgender athletes. The NFAA already stated whatever rules USA Archery ultimately adopts will become the official policy for the organization and replace its guidelines set to go into effect in June.