The president of the Cheyenne Tennis Association board has resigned in protest over the organization’s decision to let a transgender player compete in the women’s open division of this weekend’s annual Wyoming Governor’s Cup tournament in Cheyenne.
“I think a man playing against a woman is a very unfair matchup when it’s specifically meant for women in that specific draw,” said Jackie Fulkrod, who resigned her position on the board last week. “I feel like having a transgender athlete compete in the women’s draw is against my personal integrity and what I believe and value.”
Brooklyn Ross, a 27-year-old transgender athlete from Littleton, Colorado, will be competing in the women’s open singles division of the tournament this weekend.
Ross, who just finished up the tennis season playing at a NCAA Division II college in Texas, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that there’s never been any controversy or opposition to playing in tournaments before. Ross transitioned six years ago and started playing college tennis at Metro State University in Denver in 2019.
Ross has played in tournaments around the nation and just finished playing in a tournament in Florida, a state that passed legislation in 2021 prohibiting transgender athletes from participating in girls’ and women's sports.
“It’s always been positive and good,” Ross said.
On The Legislature’s Radar
Earlier this year, the Wyoming Legislature passed legislation prohibiting transgender girls from participating in girls’ school sports. This new law won’t affect the upcoming Governor's Cup as it’s not a school-sanctioned event. It also only applies to girls in grades seven through 12.
Gov. Mark Gordon let the legislation pass into law without his signature.
“Because we’re a rec sport, there isn’t any protection for the women that would be playing in our tournament,” Fulkrod said.
Ross expressed disappointment that Fulkrod resigned and encouraged her and others who oppose Ross playing in the tournament to come watch the competition.
“I feel sad this woman has resigned over this,” Ross said. “I feel like there’s no reason to.”
There is no age restriction in the open division that is generally considered the highest level of competition in the tournament. Because of this, Fulkrod said Ross could end up competing against much younger female players.
Tournament Director Peg Connor, who also is executive director of the Wyoming Tennis Association, would not comment as to whether it was the Cheyenne Tennis Association board or herself that made the final choice to allow Ross to compete, but said, “these decisions are not made in a vacuum.”
Fulkrod said the board didn’t vote on the matter at its last meeting on July 24.
“The people (board members) that were in the room, they were upset, visibly upset,” Fulkrod said.
The Governor’s Cup tournament is sanctioned by the United States Tennis Association. Connor referred Cowboy State Daily to the USTA’s transgender policy when asked about the decision to let Ross compete.
“Tennis thrives when the sport embraces inclusion,” the USTA says in its statement on transgender athletes. “For that reason, tennis is open to all regardless of one's age, ethnicity, race, religious background, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The policy states that transgender athletes can compete in female sports as long as they have declared themselves as a female for at least four years and are taking hormonal therapy appropriate for the assigned sex for a sufficient length of time to minimize gender-related advantages in sport competitions.
The USTA's policy, using both the International Olympic Committee and International Tennis Federation policies as guideposts, was updated in 2016 and has been in place since then “to help ensure inclusive and fair competition for all.”
Because of these policies, Fulkrod said the Cheyenne Tennis Association didn’t believe it would be supported by the USTA if it prohibited Ross from competing in the women’s division.
Lawsuits And Laws
Fulkrod, who served on the board and as president for nearly two years, said she believes most of the board members agree with her, but aren’t speaking out. Due to fear of potential lawsuits and other issues, she said they and Connor opted to let Ross play.
“My decision to resign was solely based on the fact that we didn’t have any way to protect our organization or protect our female athletes that are going to be playing in the tournament,” Fulkrod said.
Her mother, Mary Fulkrod, also resigned from the eight-member board.
Fulkrod said she has concerns about what the decision will mean for future female sporting events in Wyoming.
“I can understand the tournament director’s position because of lawsuits and that kind of thing, but as a personal belief, I thought this is wrong, this is not something we want to set as a precedent in Cheyenne because what’s the next thing?” she questioned.
‘I’m Respecting The Game’
Ross’ participation in the tournament has caught the attention of conservative firebrand Wyoming lawmakers Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, and Rep. Jeanette Ward, R-Casper, who have posted about it on social media.
On Wednesday, Rep. Ben Hornok, R-Cheyenne, also wrote an op-ed condemning the decision to let Ross play.
Ross was awarded an all-conference sportsmanship award this past season. While not sure opponents were aware of it, Ross said teammates and coaches know Ross is transgender.
“To me (the award), that’s more important than anything,” Ross said. “I’m respecting the sport and respecting my opponent. I’m respecting the game.”
Ross, standing 6 feet tall, said although one of the best players on the team, Ross still wasn’t one of the top competitors in the conference. Ross also said detractors should come see the matches this weekend and welcomes the opportunity to talk with people about playing in the Governor’s Cup.
“They probably haven’t had the experience of any trans woman being able to play, and I’m glad to be able to be able to kind of stand up for some of those people without a voice,” Ross said. “Kids that have to choose between their authenticity and playing a game.”
There are very few openly transgender athletes in Wyoming, and Ross believes playing this weekend could be a positive experience for Wyoming residents.
“This is an opportunity for them to be able to come see a trans woman competing and see a real example, not a hypothetical or theoretical,” Ross said, “a real person, a real trans person playing the sport.”
Fulkrod said a number of sponsors, including her family, have dropped out of the tournament as a result of Ross being allowed to participate. Fulkrod had also planned to play herself.
Cheyenne resident Wendy Volk has two daughters who play tennis. Volk said she and others stepped up their sponsorship commitments to make up for what was lost. Now, she said the tournament has just as much, if not more, sponsorship money rolling in.
“I think tennis is for everyone,” Volk said.
Gordon was invited to attend the tournament Friday, but his spokesperson said he won’t be there. He was out of the office Wednesday and not able to immediately comment for this story.
Fulkrod said she would be surprised if Gordon makes a statement against letting Ross play.
“I think it’s a legitimate situation that he could absolutely take a stand and say something. But personally, from my experience in how it is he governs our state, I don’t think he would,” Fulkrod said.
In a Facebook post last week, Bouchard called on the governor to denounce the tournament and that, “The California/Colorado Agenda is on Wyoming's Doorstep.”
Why She Resigned
Fulkrod doesn’t believe biological males should be allowed to participate in women's sports as they tend to be larger and stronger than their female counterparts.
“In a women’s single (division) you should expect to compete against women,” she said.
The World Swimming Coaches Association issued a statement on transgender athletes last year that says, “Trans females cannot compete fairly with biological females.”
There is no transgender division in the Governor’s Cup, or hardly any venues of competitive sport.
Fulkrod said when someone makes a decision to transition to another gender, there are certain responsibilities that come with it.
“Unfortunately, when you make an adult decision, you have adult consequences that come with it,” she said. “These are part of the consequences.”
She also has concerns about Ross using female bathrooms at Cheyenne Central High School, one of the venues hosting the Governor’s Cup.
“There would be other biological females using the facility at the same time, and I just think that’s so wrong,” she said.
Volk said she hopes Wyoming isn’t gaining a reputation like Florida for its approach to transgender issues.
“I don’t want Wyoming looked at as an unfriendly or unwelcoming place,” she said.
Volk had to play on boys golf and soccer teams in high school because girls teams didn’t exist at that time for those sports. Although she said this hampered her competitive ability, she also said it made her a better athlete in those sports.
“It’s just like any sport, you’re always going to be going up against someone stronger or better than you,” she said.
Volk drew a comparison to Ross’ entry and her daughters playing in high-level youth tournaments at a national level, an experience that has at times been sobering.
“It’s like just any challenging opponent, you just say, ‘game on,’” she said.
Fulkrod said some high school players will rely on the tournament to help boost their USTA ranking, a metric that is sometimes viewed by college coaches recruiting future players. Volk views the Governor’s Cup as merely a low-level recreational tournament.
“To get to the college level, this is not going to get you there,” she said.
Child Challenges Bouchard To Tennis Match
Bouchard posted about Ross playing in the tournament multiple times last week from his state Legislature Facebook page.
In the comments of one post where he compared the average serving speeds between men and women, a girl who Volk confirmed is 13, rose to Ross’ defense and challenged Bouchard to a tennis match.
“Hi Senator Bouchard, I’m a 13 year old,” the girl posted. “I challenge you to a tennis match, and the terms are, when I beat you, you have to leave my transgender friends alone.”
Bouchard has since deleted the comment.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.