Four female athletes in Connecticut are appealing a court ruling that dismissed their legal challenge to the state’s transgender sports policy.
In the case of Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools, several female athletes had sued over the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) policy of allowing athletes to compete in sports based on their gender identity; under the policy, biological males identifying as transgender females began competing in women’s track events in 2017.
“Our clients—like all female athletes—deserve access to fair competition; that means authentically equal opportunities to compete, achieve, and win. But competition is no longer fair when males are permitted to compete in girls’ sports,” said Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel for the group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), on Sunday. ADF, a legal group advocating for the defense of religious liberty, represents the athletes in their challenge.
On Sunday, Judge Robert Chatigny of the Connecticut district court dismissed the challenge as “not justiciable at this time.”
ADF said it will now be appealing the case to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“It’s discouraging that the court ruled to dismiss my right to compete on a level playing field,” runner Chelsea Mitchell, one of the athletes ADF represents, stated in a press release.
“Today’s ruling ignores the physical advantages that male athletes have over female athletes,” she added. “Female athletes like me should have the opportunity to excel and compete fairly. No girl should have to settle into her starting blocks knowing that, no matter how hard she works, she doesn’t have a fair shot at victory."
In 2017, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference began allowing student-athletes to compete in sports based on their gender identity, and not their biological sex. After the new policy went into effect, two biological males identifying as transgender females competed in girls’ track events and won 15 state titles.
Four high school track competitors - Mitchell, Selina Soule, Alanna Smith, and Ashley Nicoletti - filed a lawsuit against Connecticut in 2019, alleging that they had to unfairly compete against biological males identifying as transgender females. While Mitchell and Soule have already graduated high school, Smith and Nicoletti are still competing in state high school athletic events.
At an April 16, 2020 conference call in the case, Judge Chatigny instructed ADF attorneys to refer to the biological male runners as “transgender females,” National Review reported.
As the two biological male runners have since graduated high school, and with “no indication” that a runner identifying as a transgender female will be competing in girls’ track events next year, the athletes’ request for an injunction is “moot,” Judge Chatigny wrote in his ruling on Sunday.
“Defendants’ counsel have represented that they know of no transgender student who will be participating in girls’ track at that time. It is still theoretically possible that a transgender student could attempt to do so,” he said. “Even then, however, a legally cognizable injury to these plaintiffs would depend on a transgender student running in the same events and achieving substantially similar times.”
If a runner identifying as transgender did compete next season, he added, Smith and Nicoletti could resort to filing a new Title IX complaint.
“Today’s decision ignores the unfairness of the CIAC’s policy, which allows biological males who identify as female to compete in the girls’ category,” Soule said on Sunday.
“During all four years of high school, I worked incredibly hard to shave fractions of a second off of my time, only to lose to athletes who had an unfair physical advantage. I don’t want any other girl to experience the pain and heartbreak I had to go through, and I will continue to stand up for fairness in women’s sports for as long as it takes,” Soule said.
Nicoletti said that when she had to compete against biological male athletes, “I knew that, even if I ran my best, I could only finish second in my heat, and third overall.”
She continued, “Girls like me have suffered countless losses because of the CIAC’s policy, and today’s ruling ignores this fact. I will continue to tell my story and fight for fairness in women’s sports.”
Smith said that the judge’s ruling “is disheartening for athletes like me who train hard every day to be our physical and mental best at the starting block.”
“Biological unfairness does not go away because of what someone believes about gender identity. Biology—not identity—is what matters on the field, and that’s why I will continue to stand up to restore fairness to my sport,” she said.
ADF argues that the state’s policy violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; the law prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded education programs and activities. ADF says the policy does not give women equal opportunity for athletic success as their male peers.
While the Department of Education in 2020 found that the state’s policy violated Title IX, the Biden administration withdrew that finding in February.
President Biden has already signed an executive order forbidding discrimination on the basis of gender identity. ADF and other groups have warned that the order would force women athletes to compete against biological males identifying as transgender females.
In February, the House passed the Equality Act which would extend protections against sex discrimination to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. Critics of the bill, including U.S. bishops, have warned that it would threaten the integrity of girls’ sports.
Roger Brooks, a senior counsel with ADF, said The Equality Act “certainly threatens equality on the track,” adding that he is “optimistic” the bill won’t pass the Senate. Bills such as the Equality Act “ignore the differences between men and women,” he said.