The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference may be forced to change its policy allowing transgender athletes to compete in girls’ sports.
The Associated Press reportedly obtained a letter from the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights on Thursday. The 45-page letter, which is dated May 15, states that the CIAC’s policy violates Title IX and the civil rights of high school athletes who were born with female anatomy — denying “student-athletes athletic benefits and opportunities, including advancing to the finals in events, higher level competitions, awards, medals, recognition, and the possibility of greater visibility to colleges and other benefits.” The civil rights office said it may withhold federal funding over the policy.
The issue was taken to the federal level in February, when three Connecticut high school track and field athletes — Selina Soule, Chelsea Mitchell and Alanna Smith — teamed up with the Alliance Defending Freedom to file a federal lawsuit to prevent transgender athletes from competing in girls’ sports. Transgender athletes Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood combined for 15 indoor and outdoor state titles between 2017 and 2019.
“Mentally and physically, we know the outcome before the race even starts,” Smith, a Danbury High School student and the daughter of former Major League pitcher Lee Smith, said when the lawsuit was filed. “That biological unfairness doesn’t go away because of what someone believes about gender identity. All girls deserve the chance to compete on a level playing field.”
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A week after the lawsuit was filed, Mitchell won two Class-C Connecticut state championships. In March, U.S. attorney general William Barr signed a statement against the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s policy, setting the stage for the U.S. Education Department’s letter.
"It feels like we are finally headed in the right direction, and that we will be able to get justice for the countless girls along with myself that have faced discrimination for years," Mitchell, a senior, said Thursday. "It is liberating to know that my voice, my story, my loss, has been heard; that those championships I lost mean something."
“Around, the nation, districts are going to want to be reading this, because it does have legal implications,” Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Roger Brooks said. “It is a first decision from the agency charged with enforcing Title IX addressing the question of whether males on the playing field or on the track and depriving girls of opportunities consistent with Title IX.”
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Transathlete.com reports that 18 states, along with Washington, D.C., allow transgender athletes to compete without restrictions in high school sports.
“Trans students belong in our schools, including on sports teams, and we aren’t backing down from this fight,” said Chase Strangio, of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT and HIV Project.
A similar fight is ongoing in Idaho. In April, Idaho governor Brad Little signed a bill banning transgender athletes from participating in girls’ and women’s sports. The law, which is scheduled to take effect July 1, has been challenged by a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union and Legal Voice.
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