EXCLUSIVE: Fencing competitor says trans athletes in female events ‘unfair, short-sighted’ – as incoming national board executive says he’s OK with natural-born women being at a disadvantage

A fencing competitor has slammed the sport’s national body for allowing a transgender woman to compete against biological females – and snapping up top awards in two categories.  

The athlete, who spoke to DailyMail.com under the condition of anonymity, said she is one of many competitors who want to see an overhaul in the sport that refuses to regularly test athletes.

‘It feels unfair, ill-thought and short-sighted,’ she told DailyMail.com. 

The trans competitor, Eden Philpot, previously competed in men’s events before transitioning to female. She has been competing against biological women since the 2022-2023 season. 

In that time, Philpot has scooped up four gold medals, two silver and one for placing fifth and eighth in a matter of months. 

The fencer told DailyMail.com that Philpot’s success was ‘highly unique’ because she had scored medals in two disciplines – foil and saber – a feat that is unheard of in the sport.  

‘No other competitor appears on the podium of both events aside from Eden. I don’t think I’ve seen it in my lifetime of fencing,’ she said.

DailyMail.com has approached Philpot but she declined to comment.   

A fencing competitor has lashed out over the inclusion of transwomen in events

A fencing competitor has lashed out over the inclusion of transwomen in events

She says female athletes are at a'serious disadvantage' in trade for inclusivity

She says female athletes are at a ‘serious disadvantage’ in trade for inclusivity

The athlete is slamming the move as'short-sighted', claiming natural-born women are at a disadvantage

The athlete is slamming the move as ‘short-sighted’, claiming natural-born women are at a disadvantage

Fencing officials have admitted there are few regulations to keep biological men out of female competitions, saying instead they are choosing to foster inclusivity.

‘What I’m seeing happening right now is a total disregard for the integrity of women’s sports at all ages from girls to the seniors to the veteran women,’ the competitor said. 

The fencer, who did not want to be identified because she feared repercussions from referees and the national fencing association, said that other coaches and competitors shared her concerns but did not want to speak out because they believed it would be ‘futile’.

Fencing is hardly the first competition to face questions of fairness with transgender athletes.

Swimming and track have both found themselves at the center of the controversy as politicians pass laws designed to keep men out of women’s events. 

The athlete says USA Fencing’s current transgender and non-binary athlete policy does not take into account the ‘serious disadvantage’ female competitors face.

She has been competing for more than 10 years, spending $15,000 on training, national competition fees and travel to compete, but feels as though the sport is succumbing to the woke activist mindsets of the national board of directors. 

‘What I’m seeing happening right now is a total disregard for the integrity of women’s sports at all ages from girls to the seniors to the veteran women,’ she said. 

She said she is fed up of ‘male-bodied people’ in tournaments due to the ‘advantage male puberty brings’. 

‘I’m seeing that people are afraid to say anything about it, because there’s an executive body that has been extremely vocal about wanting to allow transgender women in the women’s division.’ 

Fencing USA, the sport’s official organization, has made it clear their support for nonbinary and transgender athletes in fencing is ‘both a moral and ethical imperative’. 

‘No matter how this conversation evolves, their place within the fencing community is non-negotiable.’ 

Their transgender policy states ‘athletes being treated with testosterone suppression medication, for the purposes of USA Fencing-sanctioned competitions may continue to compete in men’s events, but may only compete in women’s events after completing one calendar year (12 months) of testosterone suppression treatment. 

It adds: ‘Proof of compliant hormone therapy must be provided prior to competition.’

When probed by DailyMail.com, USA Fencing said proof compliant hormone policy can be one of four things. 

Either an official document confirming transition of gender or hormonal therapy/refill history or sexual re-assignment surgery/counseling or a letter or document from medical personnel. 

A USA Fencing spokesperson acknowledged: ‘Transgender and non-binary participation in sport is an ongoing concern, and we are committed to revisiting the policy as more evidence-based research emerges to ensure inclusion and fairness.’ 

But the outraged athlete, who was shocked to learn that there is no regular testosterone or hormone testing, says it’s not good enough. 

‘Women and girls not only deserve fair competition, they deserve the right to feel like they could win. Stacking odds against us at the start is incredibly disappointing. 

‘Male-bodied individuals can enter the women’s division with simply a doctor’s note without external verification of hormone levels, surgeries or in-completion or out-of-completion testing.’  

The athlete says USA Fencing's current transgender and non-binary athlete policy does not take into account the'serious disadvantage' female competitors face

She said asking the USA Fencing executive board for help is useless as it is ‘stacked with activists who are unwilling to listen’.    

‘You would be sticking your neck out for nothing. Nothing will change,’ she said’The FIE has been silent on the issue, despite demands for some sort of policy indicating one way or the other. It’s really been an issue.’

The athlete claims she’s pulled out of regional and national tournaments after asking if a transwomen’s testosterone levels were going to be taken and being told ‘no’. 

Her concerns have been growing after watching transwomen regularly take the podium – placing in the top eight – in the division one tournaments. 

The competitor said trans women get an abundance of reassurance and support from the USA Fencing Board of Directors. 

Damien Lehfeldt is set to be one of those members, taking up a formal position in September. He’s described as a ‘LGBTQ+ ally’ who believes ‘that members of USA fencing are able to thrive both on and off the strip when they are able to live as their most authentic selves’. 

But his mission to be inclusive is being questioned who point to a comment made on social media. 

Answering the question ‘Are you okay with cis females being at a disadvantage?’ on an Instagram story, Lehfeldt answered: ‘Yeah’.

‘His activism outweighs any fairness in women’s sports,’ the athlete said. ‘When I saw that I felt enraged in a way that made me cry. 

‘I felt that all was lost because right there, he said it, he does not care about women’s sports.’

DailyMail.com approached Lehfeldt for comment and was pointed to his blog where he penned a lengthy opinion piece about transwomen and their place in fencing. 

‘Transgender fencers deserve the right to compete with the gender they identify with, and those of adult age should comply with the competition guidelines and regulations outlined by USA Fencing and the IOC—even if the science those IOC guidelines might be imperfect,’ he states in a list of his beliefs. 

Fencing USA, the sport's official organization, has made it clear their support for nonbinary and transgender athletes in fencing is'both a moral and ethical imperative'

‘There is a possibility that transgender women have a physical advantage over their cisgender opponents after transitioning. There is also a possibility they do not. In Fencing, there is no data to support either viewpoint.

‘Giving athletes a sense of belonging and a will to live is more powerful than medals and competitive glory.’ 

Later in the piece, he said: ‘No one transitions with the intention of gaining a physical advantage over their cisgender peers.’ 

He references an athlete using a pseudonym as an example of how fencing helped pick them up. 

‘I was in such a dark place and on the verge of offing myself that it was about survival for me. But when I was reborn, I picked up an epee and felt like I was holding it again for the first time,’ she said. 

‘When I asked her about being in the fencing community. Sometimes I get looks from my competitors. 

‘I get it, my voice doesn’t exactly sound feminine. But once they get over the initial shock, this community is very welcoming and treats me with respect for who I am. And that has made a huge difference in making me feel like I belong.’

But the blog sparked further rage within the athlete speaking to DailyMail.com. 

She said: ‘”Inclusion above all else” will inevitably lead to the exclusion of women. When women are denied exclusive spaces, they leave. 

‘He is not once advocating for women. Taking away fairness in sport for women based on this insidious idea that the excluded male will self-harm otherwise is misogyny. 

‘What about the stress this causes for women? It says a lot a man is the loudest one telling women what to do with our spaces.’ 

The athlete says while so much consideration is given to the mental health of transwomen, no thought is being given to the stress it creates the competitors. She revealed her interest in fencing had only come about after having mental breakdown and the space is being taken away. 

Though there’s eight national tournaments a year, a fencer might not attend all of them. A division one athlete might attend four or five a year. 

The locations change all the time, ranging from places like Utah to Nashville, and the athlete says they are expensive to attend. 

‘I invest a lot of money and this is true for fencers at all levels,’ the athlete says. 

‘It feels like there are people trapped in this fugue state, where they refuse to acknowledge the obvious, that transwomen have an advantage over women and that they are a distinct body type.

‘Everyone is so enamored with this movement, and believing that it is progressive, that they haven’t seen how this works cross purposes with the women’s rights movements.’ 

‘Not very many of the parents are particularly fond of this recent development because it’s puts their children their daughters at a direct disadvantage in competition.’

She claimed other people across the fencing community have been making fake accounts to protest on social media and issues she has raised have been over the phone, not in writing.  

The athlete’s concerns come as the world’s top chess federation recently sparked a sexism row after banning transwomen from competing in all-female contests while it decides whether they have an unfair advantage. 

It come as the White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre wasn’t able to give a direct answer when asked if President Joe Biden thinks biological males should be able to compete against female athletes. Instead, she repeatedly called the matter ‘complicated’ and stated the obvious that there were different views on the subject.

Just over one percent of the US population is transgender, approximately 2.6 million Americans. 

Marshi Smith, co-founder of the Independent Council on Woman’s Sports, says a fierce debate has been brewing for some time over transgender sports policies. She echoes the athlete’s concerns and says the issue is becoming more important to address. 

‘The central question that we ask a person is, do you believe that women and girls deserve fair treatment and fair competition? It’s a yes or no question.

‘In fencing, what we’re seeing is do you believe a woman fencer deserves to be the women’s national champion? Yes or no? 

‘That is what we are ultimately fighting for, to demand that girls and women deserve respect and fair treatment.

‘In fencing, there are athletic advantages to being male over female. But there are equal events for men and women, so if we say that men can be given the right to taking those spots and awards and medals and podiums from women along with what they already have, that is a disparity of opportunity.’ 

In a statement, Fencing USA told DailyMail.com it stands firmly behind their transgender and non-binary athlete policy, adopted last year. 

‘This is not just a policy, but a step toward expanding access to the sport of fencing and creating inclusive, safe spaces. 

‘The policy is based on our understanding that transgender women are women and that transgender athletes deserve the right to participate in sport. 

‘We understand that the conversation on equity and inclusion pertaining to transgender participation in our sport is fluid. USA Fencing will always err on the side of inclusion, and we’re committed to amending the policy as more relevant evidence-based research emerges.

‘As we move forward, we’ll continue our research to further understand the physiological implications of gender transition within the unique environment of fencing, and where we see empirical evidence that needs to be addressed we will immediately move to do so. But make no mistake — now and in the future, our commitment to the rights of transgender athletes won’t falter.’ 

Bradford Betz

Bradford Betz is a WSTPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Bradford Betz joined WSTPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: betz@ustimespost.com.

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