In a victory for girl athletes, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) Office for Civil Rights has informed the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) and several Connecticut school districts that their transgender participation policies violate Title IX and take away opportunities and benefits from female athletes.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a non-profit legal organization that advocates for religious freedom, represents three female high school athletes who were forced to compete against biological males – who identify as female – in Connecticut track events. Almost a year ago, ADF filed a complaint with the DOE, asking it to investigate the CIAC policy which allows students to participate in sex-segregated school activities according to their “gender identity,” rather than their biological sex.
ADF argued that “permitting boys who are male in every biological and physical respect” to compete in girls’ sports was discriminatory and denied opportunities to their clients, Selina Soule, Alanna Smith and Chelsea Mitchell. ADF contended that the policy violated Title IX, the federal civil rights law banning discrimination in education based on sex. ADF also asked the department to investigate whether the CIAC and a school district had retaliated against the students and their parents for opposing the transgender policy.
The DOE announced last August that it would investigate ADF’s complaint. After months of investigation, the department found in favor of the girl athletes, issuing a “Letter of Impending Enforcement Action,” that gives the CIAC and the school districts until June 4 to change their transgender policies. The letter said there was “insufficient evidence to substantiate” the allegations of retaliation.
Separately, ADF filed a lawsuit, Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, alleging that the CIAC policy threatens Title IX. The Department of Justice (DOJ) weighed in on that case, issuing a statement of interest in support of the girls.
The DOJ said CIAC’s transgender policy does “not account for the real physiological differences between men and women.” The DOJ explained that Title IX deals with “sex” as a binary term – referring to male and female – and that the conference’s interpretation to include “gender identity” turns “the statute on its head,” denying women equal opportunity.
Connecticut’s problems began in 2013, when the CIAC adopted a policy to allow students to participate in sex-segregated school activities according to their “gender identity,” rather than their biological sex. The policy was in line with Connecticut’s non-discrimination laws, which ban discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation and gender identity.”
In 2017, Andraya Yearwood, a boy who identifies as a girl, won the Connecticut girls’ state titles in the 100- and 200-meter sprints. The next year, Yearwood was joined by another track athlete who is biologically male but believes he’s a girl, Terry Miller. They came in first and second in the girls’ state 100-meter sprint.
ADF’s complaint said the boys “have taken 15 women’s state championship titles (titles held in 2016 by ten different Connecticut girls) and have taken more than 40 opportunities to participate in higher level competitions from female track athletes in the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons alone.”
The CIAC acknowledged the letter but defended its transgender policy: “Connecticut law is clear and students who identify as female are to be recognized as female for all purposes – including high school sports. To do otherwise would not only be discriminatory but would deprive high school students of the meaningful opportunity to participate in educational activities, including inter-scholastic sports, based on sex-stereotyping and prejudice sought to be prevented by Title IX and Connecticut state law.
Still, the DOE’s letter is good news for Connecticut female athletes. Chelsea Mitchell responded by saying, “I am extremely happy and relieved to learn that OCR found the CIAC and the school districts violated Title IX.”
“It is liberating to know that my voice, my story, my loss, has been heard; that those championships I lost mean something. Finally, the government has recognized that women deserve the right to compete for victory, and nothing less,” she added.
Photo from Alliance Defending Freedom