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Lana Lawless gets chance to compete on LPGA Tour with gender requirement change

Lana Lawless is a transgender who sued the LPGA Tour for a chance to play professional golf. LPGA players voted to give transgenders, like Lana Lawless, an opportunity to compete.

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Lana Lawless(R), a 57-year-old retired police officer who underwent a gender-reassignment surgery in 2005, is seen in this October file photo with her attorney, Chris Dolan(L).

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LPGA players have voted to allow transgender players to compete on tour in response to a lawsuit filed by a California woman who had her sex changed five years ago.

The players voted to remove the "female at birth" requirement from the tour's constitution at a year-end meeting at the LPGA Tour Championship, commissioner Michael Whan said. He said steps will be taken in the coming weeks to make the change.

Lana Lawless, a former police officer who had the sex change operation, filed the federal lawsuit in San Francisco in October claiming the "female at birth" requirement violated California's civil rights law. The 57-year-old Lawless wanted to prevent the LPGA from conducting tournaments in the state until it changed its policy and was seeking unspecified damages.

Lawless also sued three tour sponsors and the Long Drivers of America, which followed the LPGA policy. Lawless won the annual women's long-drive golf championship in 2008 with a 254-yard drive, but was barred from competing this year after organizers adopted the LPGA's gender rules.

"I think it is a major civil rights victory," Christopher Dolan, an attorney for Lawless, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Wednesday. "We are pleased that the LPGA has voted to end this archaic and outdated policy."

Dolan cautioned that the final changes are not expected for a couple weeks. But he was optimistic the LPGA's amended policy would allow complete access for transgenders.

"You can vote to end nuclear proliferation, but if you're still pointing the weapons, all you have is a vote," Dolan said.

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He added there were no immediate plans to drop the lawsuit, especially with Long Drivers of America offering no immediate changes to the policy, but that the lawsuit could be amended before a January hearing.

Players competing this week in Orlando were mostly satisfied with the change.

"We don't need to comment on this because it's a dead issue," Cristie Kerr said. "She can compete if she can qualify. We certainly don't want to discriminate against anybody, that's not what the LPGA is about. And if she can qualify, she'll be able to play. We're like, the last sports organization to do it, it's just we've never really had to look at it before.

Others who were asked about the vote said they didn't think a transgender player would be an issue should one qualify to play on tour.

"There's really nothing to say," Suzann Pettersen said. "When an organization like the (International Olympic Committee) decides to accept those changes, there's no reason for the LPGA not to. So for my point of view, it was the natural way to go."

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