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Three female track competitors are challenging a Connecticut policy that allows transgender student athletes to compete according to their expressed gender identity. The high schoolers claim they have missed out on top finishes when competing against transgender athletes, and possible college scholarships as well.
"We all know the outcome of the race before it even starts; it’s demoralizing," complained one plaintiff, Selina Soule. "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." What might those extra rules look like in this case?
Connecticut's anti-discrimination laws require public schools to provide students with an "equal opportunity to participate in the activities, programs and courses of study offered in such public schools ... without discrimination on account of race, color, sex, gender identity or expression, religion, national origin or sexual orientation." Based on that requirement, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference set its policy to permit students to compete in sports corresponding to their gender identity as opposed to their sex assigned at birth.
The complaint, filed with the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights, claims this policy conflicts with federal equal rights protections for female athletes. "Girls deserve to compete on a level playing field," said Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel for conservative Christian law firm Alliance Defending Freedom who filed the complaint on behalf of the high schoolers. "Women fought long and hard to earn the equal athletic opportunities that Title IX provides. Allowing boys to compete in girls' sports reverses nearly 50 years of advances for women under this law. We shouldn’t force these young women to be spectators in their own sports."
But the transgender athletes targeted by the lawsuit are only "boys" in the sense that Holcomb misgendered them, and what may appear on their birth certificates. Transathlete, which tracks K-12 policies for transgender children in recreational sports nationwide, recommends:
"All young people should have the opportunity to play recreational sports and have their personal dignity respected. Transgender young people are no different. In fact, because transgender young people often must overcome significant stigma and challenges, it would be particularly harmful to exclude them from the significant physical, mental and social benefits that young people gain by playing recreational sports. The impact of such discrimination can be severe and can cause lifelong harm. In contrast, permitting transgender children and youth to participate in recreational sports in their affirmed gender can provide an enormous boost to their self-confidence and self-esteem and provide them with positive experiences that will help them in all other areas of their lives."
Parsing out the legal protections for both female and transgender student athletes can be tricky. And in this case may be up to federal Department of Education lawyers.