Saturday, June 9, 2001

Paddling group
drops DNA demand

Transsexuals will be allowed
to paddle without taking a test
to determine their sex

By Leila Fujimori

A canoe racing group has reversed itself and no longer will demand that transsexuals who want to compete in paddling clubs submit to DNA tests to determine their sex.

The decision, recorded in the minutes of a May meeting of the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association, comes after two transsexual women filed complaints with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission over the racing association's decision that they would have to submit to DNA testing before being allowed to compete on women's paddling teams.

The association's board now says it will allow a birth certificate, driver's license and any publicly recognized document to verify gender and age of canoe paddlers. The board was worried that it could not fight off lawsuits if it continued to insist on DNA tests.

"The bottom line is we don't have insurance to cover for a civil suit," said HCRA President Michael Tongg. "It'll cost thousands of dollars, and we're not able to take on the ACLU, which is a powerful organization. We're just a nonprofit organization, and we have a shoestring budget."

Tongg also said many women have come up to him to say the new policy is unfair.

"All they want is to paddle against women," Tongg said. "The majority are not as strong as these two men who have changed their gender."

But Tammy Wronski, one of the two transsexual women who filed a grievance with the Civil Rights Commission, said she hopes the change will "fix the situation."

"My only dream left is to paddle the Molokai Channel. It's something to keep me alive," said Wronski, who has AIDS.

In April, Wronski was permitted to practice with the canoe club Manu O Ke Kai, part of the Hui Waa association.

With the letter from her doctor, Wronski had the gender listed on her birth certificate changed to "female" after her sex-change operation in 1997.

Li Anne Taft, who refers to herself as a transgender woman, was the other paddler who refused the DNA test and filed a grievance with the commission. She could not be reached for comment but in an e-mail to the Star-Bulletin, she wrote that she had not been informed of the policy change and she does not think her paddling club has, either. Taft has a state identification that lists her sex as female.

Brent White, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who represented Wronski, said he is pleased with the HCRA's decision, but the case is not settled and the policy may not be adopted in all paddling races because the HCRA lacks jurisdiction over certain races, such as the Bankoh Na Wahine Molokai Channel race.

The HCRA loosely governs 60 different clubs under six associations.

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