Back in 2016, Christina Ginther of St. Paul was really hoping she’d hear from Minnesota Vixen: a full-contact women’s football team based in Inver Grove Heights. One morning in mid-November, she got a call from team manager Laura Brown and heard the words she wanted to hear: her numbers during tryouts had been “good.”
“As we were drawing up player contracts, we looked at your social media and found that you are transgender,” Brown said, according to a complaint filed in Dakota County District Court in 2017.
That was going to be a problem, Brown explained. She’d checked with the Independent Women’s Football League’s website, and apparently, you have to have been born “legally and medically female” to be allowed to play. Supposedly, she said, it was because there was a “safety issue” with letting trans women play.
This hit Ginther pretty hard. She’d begun transitioning two years earlier, and her marriage and a few friendships hadn’t survived the process. She’d been looking for a fun, athletic, LGBTQ-friendly activity she could use to rebuild her social life, and she’d thought she’d found it in Vixen. She’d learned about the team at a Pride festival. It had even been featured in Lavender Magazine in 2015 as a “proud women’s tackle team that accepts everyone from different walks of life.”
But there she was, being told she couldn’t join because she’d been assigned male at birth.
Brown continued the call by offering Ginther other ways she could participate other than actually playing. Maybe she could get a staff position, she said -- help run drills, warm up the quarterback, that sort of thing.
Ginther told her she wanted to think about it. She hung up the phone, feeling, as she told MPR last year, “violated.”
After she was done thinking about it, she joined other women’s football teams. She played for the Madison Blaze in Wisconsin, and the Minnesota Machine in the Twin Cities. She also filed suit against Vixen and the league.
The policy, her attorney and longtime friend, Nicholas May, argued, wasn’t just gross -- it was a violation of the Human Rights Act. The National Collegiate Athletic Association has been inclusive to trans women for years -- hell, so is the International Olympic committee. Why should the Independent Women’s Football League be the one to draw that line?
Their combined efforts were rewarded. Two weeks ago, a jury unanimously agreed the league’s policy counted as “business discrimination” and ruled in Ginther’s favor. According to May, it’s the first time that has happened for a transgender person in the history of the state.
“I’m feeling relieved that it’s finally over,” Ginther says. Ironically, she’s probably about to retire from football. She’s 47 now, and years of football have been rough on her body. She’s had women seven inches shorter than her and 70 pounds lighter than her give her a full-on concussion -- something she likes to bring up whenever somebody says something about those “safety issues.”
Minnesota Vixen didn’t respond to interview requests, but the league sent a statement insisting its eligibility policy – requiring a birth certificate and a driver’s license – is “fair and supportive of all athletes.”
“We will continue to stand by our policy and continue to support LGBTQ rights and equality,” it said.
If anything, the reward for this case was watching a jury of her peers agree with what she knew when she got that phone call in 2016 -- that this kind of thing shouldn’t and wouldn’t fly any longer. Even if it’s “just a football team,” or “just a locker room” or “just a bathroom.”
“Trans people have a voice, and it’s listened to,” she says. “Other people do support our rights.”