The federal government has sided with a group of Connecticut athletes who have sued the state’s governing body of high school sports over the inclusion of transgender athletes in girls events.
The U.S. Department of Education now believes the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s rule allowing athletes to compete as the gender with which they identify violates Title IX, the landmark federal law that initially gave female athletes the same opportunity to compete as males.
In a two-week-old letter only now being made public, a U.S. Department of Education official notified the CIAC and several Connecticut school districts that they’ll soon face sanctions over the participation of two student-athletes who identify as female: Bloomfield High School senior Terry Miller and Cromwell High School senior Andraya Yearwood.
The Office for Civil Rights “determined that the CIAC, by permitting the participation of certain male student-athletes in girls’ interscholastic track in the state of Connecticut, pursuant to the Revised Transgender Participation Policy, denied female 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,” read the letter, signed by Timothy C.J. Blanchard, director of U.S. Department of Education’s OCR New York office.
The CIAC and the Bloomfield, Canton, Cromwell, Danbury, Glastonbury and Hartford school districts are also embroiled in a federal lawsuit brought by competitors of Miller and Yearwood: Canton senior Chelsea Mitchell, Glastonbury senior Selina Soule and Danbury sophomore Alanna Smith.
The U.S. Department of Education’s position is a reversal by a department that once essentially supported the type of inclusion the CIAC grants transgender athletes. It also differs from a more recent stance that put the onus on state and local school districts to establish policy.
Glenn Lungarini, the CIAC’s executive director, said his group will continue to follow established practice in this state.
“To do otherwise would not only be discriminatory but would deprive high school students of the meaningful opportunity to participate in educational activities -- including interscholastic sports -- based on sex-stereotyping and prejudice sought to be prevented by Title IX and Connecticut law,” Lungarini said.
The U.S. Department of Education provided the letter to Connecticut Public Radio but didn’t comment further.
The letter stipulates that the OCR will enforce the ruling within 20 calendar days from the date it was signed. The Associated Press reports that Connecticut’s Department of Education could lose some federal funding as a result.
Mitchell, Smith and Soule are represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom. The ruling supports what their attorneys have been arguing.
“After a long investigation, the Office for Civil Rights decided that the Connecticut policy that allows males to compete in the girls category does violate Title IX, as we’ve argued all along, so it’s very encouraging news,” said Christiana Holcomb, ADF legal counsel.
Holcomb calls Miller and Yearwood males, despite the fact that they identify as females.
Meanwhile, an attorney representing Miller and Yearwood told Connecticut Public Radio that the federal ruling is “the latest attempt by the Trump administration to try to bully states into carrying out its bigoted anti-trans agenda.”
“Trans girls are girls, and they should be treated as such, on the track and in all parts of their lives,” said Dan Barrett, legal director of the Connecticut chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Connecticut, including the quasi-government agency of the CIAC, can and should continue to protect trans youth from discrimination.”
Both Holcomb and CIAC Executive Director Lungarini characterized the federal lawsuit as being in the “early stages.”
The athletes named in the lawsuit would have competed against each other once again in state track and field events this June had the CIAC not canceled spring championships due to the COVID-19 pandemic.