Showdown Looms In New Haven On Trans Athletes | Connecticut Public Radio
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Showdown Looms In New Haven On Trans Athletes

Sep 10, 2020

The federal government may withhold key dollars for New Haven’s magnet school program if New Haven does not agree to ban transgender athletes from their chosen sports teams.

The New Haven Board of Education Wednesday night vowed to fight what it called strong-arm tactics, in court if necessary.

“This is effectively extortion, taking away funding from our public schools in order to put us in position where we go against important policies,” said Mayor Justin Elicker, a board member.

At stake is roughly $6 million over the course of two years, in the form of the Federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program Grant. This covers specialized programming at magnet schools like Davis Street, King/Robinson and High School in the Community.

The board held an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss a recent decision from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that allowing transgender athletes to participate in the sports team of the gender they identify as discriminates against other athletes on that team. This follows a suit filed by the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of three female, Connecticut athletes.

New Haven needs OCR to sign off on the magnet school grant because it is an equity-related grant intended to help integrate schools. The board voted unanimously on Monday to appeal OCR’s decision within the Department of Education if OCR does not sign off on the grant. They also voted unanimously to pursue further legal action if the department turns down their appeal.

“We’ve been singled out. Other people that are getting funding for magnet schools are not having this pressure put on them,” said board member Ed Joyner.

OCR has targeted the few Connecticut districts that receive MSAP dollars with a new nondiscrimination assurance. This new document requires the district to exclude trans athletes from their sports teams of their choosing. The board said that they will not sign this document.

Board member and pediatrician Tamiko Jackson-McArthur: This saddens me.

Board members argued that these new decisions from OCR are political moves by the Trump administration at the cost of largely academic programs for Connecticut students.

“This whole thing has really saddened me. It is so hurtful to see this administration try to make us discriminate against anyone,” said board member Tamiko Jackson-McArthur. “I am so proud of my colleagues that we will be standing up to this crap, because that’s what it is.”

“This is an attempt to fire up a base for the election and that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to educate kids. We may not agree on all the things all of the time but we certainly agree on this one,” said board member Darnell Goldson.

Superintendent Iline Tracey pointed out that New Haven Public Schools gets other federal grants and wondered how else the district might be affected.

“They will not stop unless they are stopped,” Joyner answered.

“Part Of A Larger Plan”

Karleigh Webb, a writer for Outsports.com and a crisis operator for Trans Lifeline, sees New Haven’s predicament as part of a larger attack on public schools and trans rights by the Trump administration and by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in particular.

“Betsy DeVos has spent her adult life trying to destroy public education and has spent an immense amount of her family’s fortune to that end,” Webb said.

“Especially at this time when we have kids going back to school, dealing with this Covid crisis, we are going to need help. For them to try to threaten withhold help, I find that vulgar.”

Webb said that cutting aid attempts to pit marginalized people against one another.

“Who gets hurt the most? The most vulnerable. Then you get the bigger picture of what this is really about, trying to cut one group of marginalized off from another group that is just as marginalized,” Webb said.

Webb said that trans students are one of the easiest groups within the LGBTQ spectrum to target, because trans people do not have the kind of nationwide acceptance that cisgender lesbian and gay people have achieved in recent years. If successful, she expects the sports ban to be followed by a locker room ban and then a bathroom ban and attacks on other parts of the spectrum.

“They can do same to trans college, to trans working people, and take away our public accommodations piece by piece,” Webb said.

Webb said that trans teenagers are particularly vulnerable during the Covid-19 pandemic when college and high school students must spend more time at home with families who may not accept their identities.

“Then they turn on the news. Seeing that simply put, the people in charge of running the country don’t consider you part of the country, or even human—it’s bound to affect you,” Webb said.

Webb encouraged other local governments to follow the example of New Haven and Stamford in resolving to fight any attempts to pit public school funding against trans rights.

“Since Donald Trump has gotten into office, trans people have been under siege. We’re trying to stand in the bunker with each other the best way we can. Every time someone stands up [like New Haven did], it helps ease that siege a little bit. But that siege is there,” Webb said.