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New Haven Register (Connecticut)


Rahsaan Yearwood said he turned to his daughter the other day with a question.

Sure, the results already were there in black and white. Greater Bristol Invitational, girls 100 meters: 1. Terry Miller, Bulkeley, 12.22; 2. Andraya Yearwood, Cromwell, 12.5. Middletown Invitational: 1. Miller, 11.87; 2. Yearwood, 12.44.

Yet as a father of a transgender athlete — one who endured and, yes, excelled under national scrutiny last year in the least black-and-white issue in sports — Rahsaan wanted to know what his daughter thought beyond the results.

"Andraya said, 'Dad, I'm just happy that she can be who she can be.' "

A year after Yearwood won the Connecticut Class M 100-meter and 200-meter titles, took third in the State Open and second in New England Championships in the 100, we find ourselves in a discussion we did not figure to revisit this soon. Yet if we value the lives of our children and the fairness of competition, it is a discussion we must continue.

Entering the weekend, Terry Miller, a sophomore at Bulkeley High in Hartford, had turned in times of 11.87 seconds in the 100, 24.17 in the 200 and 56.63 in the 400. Miller won all three events with those times at Middletown on May 4. Miller's 200 ranks as the best in Connecticut. The 100 and 400 times would rank as second best, although Miller beat Erin McGill of Glastonbury, who has the best time posted on the CIAC site, by almost 1.7 seconds in the 400 at Middletown. Miller and Yearwood beat Windsor's Tia Marie Brown (who has a 11.8 posted on the CIAC site) in the 100 at Middletown.

Figuring that Miller's performances improve as the weather warms and the season progresses, state records could fall. Miller's times have become a subject of discussion in the track community. Unlike last year when Yearwood's family decided to step forward in April with their daughter's story in The Hartford Courant, Miller's personal journey is yet untold.

Bulkeley athletic director Diane Callis directed me to Pedro Zayas, director of communications and marketing for Hartford Public Schools. He explained that Miller's family did not sign off for an approval to allow the school district to discuss Miller. Bulkeley girls coach Kaitlin Sullivan said Miller is declining any interviews at this time.

This is what we know. Miller ran with the Bulkeley boys team as late as the winter indoor season and now excels with the girls team.

The CIAC rules, which point to applicable state and federal laws, are unambiguous. If a student identifies as a girl and the student's school district identifies her as a girl, the student can compete as a girl. Last year, Gov. Malloy even signed an executive order to guarantee the rights of transgender students receiving an education remain uninterrupted.

Let me be clear. I support high school transgender athletes' right to compete where they want and would not want to live in a place where they wouldn't honor that right.

The facts are that states are all over the map with high school rules, and even at the international level there is furious debate.

Connecticut and other states require no hormone therapy or surgery. Some states have no set policy. Others demand surgery or a hormone wait period or even participation based on sexual identification on a birth certificate. Frankly, the rigid birth certificate standard strikes me as so morally unfair that it makes me sick.

"People look at this as a sports story, but for me as a parent, it's not about sports," said Rahsaan Yearwood, a teacher at Elm City College Prep in New Haven and a former college athlete. "It's about presenting (an) opportunity for your child to be the best person they can be in whatever context that is, as long as it's safe and happy.

"Parents understand that better than people who think I have a vested interest in my daughter winning first place in Class M in track and field in Connecticut, which nobody gives a (heck) about anyway."

Yearwood ran as a biological male last spring. And watching her line up and win two Class M titles, I wrote that it felt competitively unfair. I still feel that way. At that point, she had undergone no hormone treatments. Rahsaan Yearwood said that day the plan was for Andraya to start them.

Rahsaan confirmed Friday that Andraya had begun the process several months ago. The Yearwoods have been true to their words.

The reason men are faster than women is no state secret. It's testosterone. Suppression leads to slower times. This has been proved in elite international competition. When you are dealing with high school students, one of the variables is that young athletes weren't previously in top condition and there can be room for improvement.

Yearwood's personal best last year in the 100 was 12.17, yet that also wasn't until June 10. So, at 12.44 this year, who knows? She may not match it.

Miller had bests of 12.2 in the 100 and 25.71 in the 200 on the Bulkeley boys team last spring. This year's times of 11.87 and 24.17 already are markedly better.

There is a long process toward sex reassignment surgery. In Connecticut, you have to be 16 to start estrogen. That's something to remember for those quick to condemn underclassmen competing as transgender.

"Of course there can be a biological advantage," Rahsaan Yearwood said. "But there are a lot of competitive and hard-working girls who kicked Andraya's butt last year.

"I wouldn't care if transgender athletes who are not on estrogen or testosterone don't get to medal but get to compete. That's a sports story. I'm interested in the human side of this. For people being comfortable and having the space to be who they are wherever they are in whatever fashion they chose. That's what life is really about."

Yearwood has been an important voice in this state debate. He is careful to point out that his voice is one of a parent. Heaven knows, this debate ranges the spectrum. Some argue no two athletes are created equal anyway, so live and let live. Others will counter with the argument that we should then eliminate all differentiations between sexes and weight limits.

How transgender athletes eventually are classified in sports could affect Title IX and scholarship distribution. As it stands, young women and their teams already see their places fall in competition.

Exactly where the line for participation as a man or woman falls is an area so gray, so fractured, so nuanced. In the 2016, the International Olympic Committee went to a waiting period of one year after the start of hormone replacement therapy. That is the NCAA rule. The IOC had previously called for sex-reassignment surgery and a waiting period for two years after surgery.

Yet last month, the IAAF ruled that female runners, competing between 400 meters to the mile, with elevated levels of testosterone will be required to lower the amount for six months before competing in women's events at the Olympics or world championships. This is such a shameless targeting of middle-distance Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya of South Africa, it's almost laughable. What? You don't think testosterone might help a shot putter more? C'mon.

Now that Andraya Yearwood has started hormonal treatment, the biological playing field has started to level. Yet what is the perfect solution competitively? I do not have an answer. This much I do know: Transgender teenagers, too often rejected by family and friends, have substantially higher rates of suicide and drug use. I know a race isn't as important as a life.

"I think Andraya's happy because we created a safe space for her," Rahsaan Yearwood said. "The negative comments she sees online, these kids are savvy. They know. The key is to create a space within your immediate network that allows you to be comfortable and happy. And that allows you to turn your cheek to the ignorant comments that come at you because you're a trans athlete."; @jeffjacobs123

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May 13, 2018


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