The results of the Connecticut girls' state open indoor track championships have reignited the debate over how and where transgender athletes should be able to compete.
Junior Andraya Yearwood of Cromwell High School, a transgender student-athlete who is transitioning to female, recently finished second in the 55-meter dash. The winner of the event, Terry Miller of Bloomfield High School, is also transgender. Miller set a girls state indoor record in the event at 6.95 seconds.
Miller and Yearwood won the 100-meter state championships last year, and Miller won the 300-meter this season.
For her part, Yearwood says the debate raging around her participation as a girl has been a learning experience.
"I have learned a lot about myself and about other people through this transition. I always try to focus most on all of the positive encouragement that I have received from family, friends and supporters," Yearwood told the Associated Press. "I use the negativity to fuel myself to run faster."
Yearwood and Miller are competing in Connecticut, one of 17 states that allow transgender high school athletes to compete without restrictions. Yearwood says she understands that she might be stronger than her cisgender peers but notes that they may have advantages that she doesn’t have.
"One high jumper could be taller and have longer legs than another, but the other could have perfect form, and then do better," Yearwood said. "One sprinter could have parents who spend so much money on personal training for their child, which in turn, would cause that child to run faster."
Selina Soule, a junior at Glastonbury High School, who finished eighth in the 55, doesn't see it that way. In fact, she thinks that Yearwood’s and Miller’s participation as girls will affect her chances of landing a scholarship.
"We all know the outcome of the race before it even starts; it’s demoralizing," she said. "I fully support and am happy for these athletes for being true to themselves. They should have the right to express themselves in school, but athletics have always had extra rules to keep the competition fair."
The Connecticut Association of Schools-Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference says its rules follow state anti-discrimination laws.
"This is about someone’s right to compete," executive director Glenn Lungarini said. "I don't think this is that different from other classes of people, who, in the not too distant past, were not allowed to compete. I think it’s going to take education and understanding to get to that point on this issue."
Many disagree, saying that physiology should be the basis of deciding where an athlete competes.
Joanna Harper, a medical physicist and transgender runner from Portland, Oregon, says she believes there needs to be a standard based on hormone levels.
"The gender identity doesn't matter, it's the testosterone levels," said Harper, who studies transgender athletes. "Trans girls should have the right to compete in sports. But cisgender girls should have the right to compete and succeed, too. How do you balance that? That’s the question."
The National Scholastic Athletics Foundation, which holds the national championships in March, allows pre-pubescent girls to participate with their affirmed gender. However, post-pubescent transgender girls must have completed sex-reassignment surgery and "a sufficient amount of time must have passed" after the operation or hormone therapy "to minimize gender-related competitive advantages."
A group of parents is seeking a similar change to Connecticut’s state policy. Jon Forrest, whose daughter is teammates with Soule, is one of them.
"The facts show Glastonbury would be the state champion based on cisgender girls competing against cisgender girls," he said. "You don't realize it until you see it in person, the disparity in the ability to perform."