A Connecticut high school sports policy allowing biologically male athletes to compete in female events is a Title IX violation, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights ruled on Thursday.
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) adopted a policy in 2017 allowing high school student athletes to compete in sports based on their “preferred gender identity.”
Several female track athletes filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights last year, alleging that the policy violated Title IX. They have been represented by Alliance Defending Freedom.
On Thursday, the office ruled that the policy was indeed a violation, Associated Press reported.
After the policy was implemented by CIAC, two male students who identified as female--Terry Miller of Bloomfield High School and Andraya Yearwood of Cromwell High School--were allowed to compete during the 2018 outdoor track season; one of them had previously competed in the 2018 male indoor track season.
One of the two male runners now holds 10 state records for female track that were previously held by 10 different female runners; the two runners have won 15 women’s state championship titles.
Chelsea Mitchell, one of the athletes who filed the complaint, said she was “extremely happy” at the ruling.
“It feels like we are finally headed in the right direction, and that we will be able to get justice for the countless girls along with myself that have faced discrimination for years,” Mitchell said.
“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.”
ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb said in a statement that “girls shouldn’t be reduced to spectators in their own sports.”
“We’re encouraged that the Department of Education has officially clarified that allowing males to compete in the female category isn’t fair, destroys girls’ athletic opportunities, and clearly violates federal law. Males will always have inherent physical advantages over comparably talented and trained girls—that’s the reason we have girls’ sports in the first place. In light of the department’s letter, we’re asking Connecticut schools and the CIAC to update their problematic policies and comply with federal law,” Holcomb said
Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendments Act prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded education activities and programs.
According to AP, which obtained a copy of the ruling, the office said it might withhold federal funding over the violation.
When the original complaint was filed with the Department of Education last year, Miller and Yearwood both spoke out, saying they were victims of discrimination.
“I am a girl and I am a runner. I participate in athletics just like my peers to excel, find community and meaning in my life,” Miller said. “It is both unfair and painful that my victories have to be attacked and my hard work ignored.”
The three female track athletes who filed the Title IX complaint— Selina Soule of Glastonbury High School, senior Chelsea Mitchell of Canton High School, and sophomore Alanna Smith of Danbury High School—also filed a lawsuit in federal court.
Their complaint in Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools says that “biological differences,” not gender identity, has always determined sex-specific sports “because those differences matter for fair competition.”
Speaking on Fox News in 2018, Soule said that she had received “nothing but support” from her teammates and from other athletes, but she has “experienced some retaliation from school officials and coaches.”
In a 2018 interview after the state championships, Soule said that she had “no problem with [the male athletes] wanting to be a girl,” but that she did not think it was right that she had to race males.
“I think it’s unfair to the girls who work really hard to do well and qualify for Opens and New Englands,” she said in 2018. The New England championships serve as a scouting venue for many college-level coaches.
Earlier this month, lawyers for the complainants asked the federal judge hearing the case to recuse himself after he instructed them to refer to the gender identity, not biological sex of the male athletes during the trial.
In an April 16 conference call for the case, district court judge Robert Chatigny instructed attorneys for ADF to refer to the males identifying as female as “transgender females,” rather than as “males,” National Review reported.
“Referring to these individuals as ‘transgender females’ is consistent with science, common practice and perhaps human decency,” the judge said.
Chatigny said that referring to the biologically male athletes as “males” is “not accurate” and is “needlessly provocative.”
When an ADF attorney responded on the call that by referring to them as “males,” they were simply complying with human “physiology,” the judge said that terminology was “unfortunate.” If the attorneys persisted in doing so, he said, “maybe we’ll need to do something.”
The Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in the case in March, saying that Title IX did not apply to claims of transgender discrimination.
Attorney General Bill Barr and several other Department of Justice officials co-signed the statement of interest on March 24, saying that “Title IX and its implementing regulations prohibit discrimination solely ‘on the basis of sex,’ not on the basis of transgender status, and therefore neither require nor authorize CIAC’s transgender policy.”
“One of Title IX’s core purposes is to ensure that women have an ‘equal athletic opportunity’ to participate in school athletic programs,” they wrote, saying that requiring that biological males who identify themselves as female compete against biological girls, “would turn the statute on its head.”