Three Connecticut high school track and field athletes filed a federal Title IX discrimination complaint over the state’s athletic transgender policy, claiming that it has put them at a competitive disadvantage, saying transgender athletes competing in high school track violates federal protections for female athletes and have cost them top finishes and possibly college scholarships.
The complaint was filed to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights by the law firm Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of the three girls. The complaint asks the government agency to initiate an investigation of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s policy that allows athletes to enter competitions corresponding with their gender identity.
“What we are asking for is a return to fairness, and anything that allows a biological male to come into a women’s sporting event and take away their medals or their podium spots or their opportunities to advance or college scholarships is unfair,” Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a phone interview. “Any solution cannot end up with that as an outcome.”
The complaint comes at a time when the participation of transgender athletes in sports has reached the national spotlight. In Connecticut, the success of transgender runners Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood, both of whom were identified in the complaint, drew attention after they finished first and second in the 55-meter dash at the state indoor track championships this winter. This spring, Miller won the 200-meter dash and was a part of the first-place 4×400-meter relay team at the state outdoor championships.
In the complaint, the law firm claims the CIAC’s policy discriminates against girls and “threatens to reverse the gains for girls and women that Title IX has achieved since 1972.” It also states that “highly competitive girls” are “systematically being deprived of a fair and equal opportunity to experience the ‘thrill of victory.’ ”
Connecticut is one of 19 state high school associations that are deemed to have fully inclusive policies that allow transgender athletes to compete without restrictions, according to transathlete.com. Other states either have no policies or ones that are described as needing “modifications” before they can be considered fully inclusive or ones that are described a “discriminatory,” as determined by the website.
Miller, who just finished her junior year at Bloomfield High School, won the 200-meter title at the State Open meet for the second year in a row in 2019, according to the Hartford Courant. She also holds titles for New England track events in 2018 and 2019.
In her statement, Miller said she runs not just for herself:
“I have faced discrimination in every aspect of my life and I no longer want to remain silent. 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. It is both unfair and painful that my victories have to be attacked and my hard work ignored. Living in a state that protects my rights is something that I do not take for granted. So many young trans people face exclusion at school and in athletics and it contributes to the horrible pain and discrimination that my community faces. The more we are told that we don’t belong and should be ashamed of who we are, the fewer opportunities we have to participate in sports at all. And being an athlete can help us survive. But instead we are being told to be quiet, to go home, to stop being who we are. I will continue to fight for all trans people to compete and participate consistent with who we are. There is a long history of excluding Black girls from sport and policing our bodies. I am a runner and I will keep running and keep fighting for my existence, my community and my rights.”
According to the Courant, Yearwood attends Cromwell High School and finished third to Miller in the Class S 100-meter dash and fourth in the same event at the State Open.
Yearwood said on Wednesday that her family’s support and living in a state that protects her rights is what keeps her “going”:
“I have known two things for most of my life: I am a girl and I love to run. There is no shortage of discrimination that I face as a young Black woman who is transgender. I have to wake up every day in a world where people who look like me face so many scary and unfair things. I am lucky to live in a state that protects my rights and to have a family that supports me. This is what keeps me going. Every day I train hard – I work hard to succeed on the track, to support my teammates, and to make my community proud. It is so painful that people not only want to tear down my successes but take down the laws and policies that protect people like me. I will never stop being me! I will never stop running! I hope that the next generation of trans youth doesn’t have to fight the fights that I have. I hope they can be celebrated when they succeed not demonized. For the next generation, I run for you!”
The athletes who filed the complaint include Selina Soule, a junior at Glastonbury High who has been vocal about her thoughts on competing against transgender athletes, and two others whose names and schools were not disclosed for fear of retaliation.
“The girls repeatedly emphasize they have friends who are transgender; they have nothing against these individuals as individuals,” said Holcomb, the attorney. “They just want fairness in sports, and biology is what matters in the sporting context, not a person’s identity.”
The complaint states that in the time since Soule’s parents complained to school officials of sex discrimination, track coaches have retaliated against her by forcing her to “perform workouts that are not generally applied for short-distance sprinters” and keeping her from competitions until she has completed them. Additionally, it states that a coach told Soule that if a college recruiter asked about Soule, “he would not be able to give a good report.”
“It is so painful that people not only want to tear down my successes but take down the laws and policies that protect people like me,” Yearwood, of Cromwell High, said in a statement through the ACLU. “I hope that the next generation of trans youth doesn’t have to fight the fights that I have. I hope they can be celebrated when they succeed not demonized.”
The CIAC said in a statement that it would “cooperate fully if it decides to investigate this complaint. We take such matters seriously, and we believe that the current CIAC policy is appropriate under both Connecticut law and Title IX.”
Holcomb said it could take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years before there is a final resolution from the Office for Civil Rights.
The issue of gender identity has reached the highest levels of the sport: The Court of Arbitration for Sport recently upheld track and field’s global governing body’s decision that required two-time Olympic champion Caster Semenya to artificially lower the testosterone level in her bloodstream to be eligible to compete in certain women’s events. Semenya has appealed to the Swiss supreme court and recently won an interim ruling pending that full decision.
The success of Yearwood and Miller at the state championship this winter drew national attention, including from President Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., who tweeted: “I feel so sorry for the young ladies who trained their whole lives to be the best in their state and to hopefully attain scholarships etc etc . . . this is a grave injustice.”
“Discrimination on the basis of sex extends to trans people,” Chase Strangio, staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, said in a statement. “Girls who are transgender are girls. Attacking two black young women who are simply participating in the sport they love just because they are transgender is wrong, it is dangerous, and it is distorts Title IX, which is a law that protects all students on the basis of sex.”