Thursday, July 29, 1999

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
LiAnne Taft, above center (and below), stands with her team as instruc-
tions are given as to how Koa Kai Canoe Club practice will go.

Paddling rule
change biased, trans-
sexual contends

The gender verification rule doesn't
reflect the current identity of a person, says
LiAnne Taft, who has filed a complaint
with the civil rights commission

By Crystal Kua


WHEN LiAnne Taft, who describes herself as a transsexual woman, got involved in Hawaiian canoe racing in 1996, she says she found acceptance and camaraderie among fellow paddlers.

"Paddling has been like a support group for me," Taft said. "From the beginning people acknowledged who I was and didn't make an issue of it."

But Taft contends that a new gender verification rule established by the governing body of canoe racing in the state aims to discriminate against her and others like her from paddling.

"It's like a witch hunt. They're targeting people," she said.

The rule would require a birth certificate instead of a driver's license to determine how a person would compete.

"By no means are we saying that she cannot paddle," said Michael Tongg, president of the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association. "We encourage people to paddle."

However, he said the association has received complaints about Taft.

"I have a lot of women paddlers who say it's unfair for a man to paddle against women," Tongg said.

'The ramifications of this are great.
Where do you determine the line
between a man and woman?'

Michael Tongg


Taft is reluctant to talk about her transsexual progress, saying it's a privacy matter, However, Tongg said his understanding is that Taft has not completed the process of becoming a woman.

"The ramifications of this are great," Tongg said. "Where do you determine the line between a man and woman?"

Taft, who has not produced her birth certificate, said the new rule would exclude her from participating in the upcoming state canoe competition.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
LiAnne Taft describes a rule change in
paddling as "like a witch hunt."

Taft has been paddling in women's and mixed crews for the Koa Kai Club in the Na Ohana O Hui Waa, which allows the use of driver's licenses to verify gender.

Taft said the birth certificate is not a reliable document because it doesn't reflect the current identity of the person. She also said some states won't amend a birth certificate to reflect changes in gender and name.

A document like a driver's license is state-sanctioned and the information should be deemed reliable, she said. Taft's Hawaii driver's license lists her as a female.

Tongg, however, said a driver's license won't work because it can easily be altered to reflect whatever the license holder puts on it.

If a birth certificate is unavailable, the association is looking toward verifying gender through DNA or chromosome testing should someone contest the gender of a paddler, he added.

Taft contends that men do not necessarily have athletic superiority over women.

Taft said a complaint indicated that she had the "physique like a man."

"I'm strong but not the strongest," Taft said.

Tongg said the association tried to find other options so Taft could paddle. Those options include having Taft paddle in a men's crew, mixed men's and women's crew or a "special category" for those like Taft.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
LiAnne Taft, front right, helps put the canoes in the water
with her teammates at the Ala Moana Beach Park.

Taft said there should be more than one way to determine gender of a paddler including psychological testing, hormone testing and self-identity.

Before becoming LiAnne, Taft was Bill, who decided to pursue a gender change after his father die. He got divorced from his wife and got laid off from a job.

"I suddenly discovered I didn't have to be Bill for anyone anymore," she told a local publication in 1996.

Taft has filed a complaint with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission and with the city alleging that the rule would discriminate against her.

Tongg said the association couldn't afford to be a party to a lawsuit should Taft decide to pursue litigation.

Tongg said the position of the racing association is that the rules should be followed and if changes are sought, members can pursue a rule change, which Taft has not yet done.

Taft said, however, she couldn't wait until racing officials meet in December to pursue a rule change.

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