Inclusive Policy for Trans Athletes Spurs Tense Arguments in Connecticut

The hearing came two days after the Biden administration dropped support of a Title IX suit from female athletes who say it’s unfair to make them compete against transgender girls. 

Chelsea Mitchell speaks at a 2019 press conference outside the Connecticut Capitol building announcing a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s transgender athletics policy, which allows students to compete regardless of whether they are the same biological sex. (Courthouse News photo/Christine Stuart)

HARTFORD, Conn. (CN) — Fighting school rules that allow transgender girls to compete against other girls in high school sports, a group of current and former Connecticut track and field athletes argued in front of a federal judge on Friday. 

The hearing came days after the Biden administration withdrew government support from the Title IX suit, brought by three athletes who say they are at a biological disadvantage if forced to compete in races, including home state championships, against trans girls. 

Arguing on their behalf, attorney Roger Brooks with Alliance Defending Freedom focused largely on the differences between gender identity and the sex someone is assigned at birth. 

Connecticut school rules are unfair to “half of the student body that were born with XX chromosomes,” Brooks said, asserting that “the case turns on the meaning of sex.”

Separating boys’ and girls’ teams is only justifiable based on biological differences like height and muscle mass, argued Brooks. 

“There’s no underlying justification for separating by gender identity,” he said. “That’s not what athletic ability depends on.”

ACLU attorney Joshua Block pointed out that Title IX does not specifically require separate sports. The statute says girls must be allowed to participate in boys’ sports, or else be provided with a comparable alternative. 

In the same Connecticut schools that are being sued, there is one co-ed team for ice hockey, which Block noted is a contact sport. 

Block said that no court has ever defined equal access to sports as “winning an equal number of trophies.”

“No one’s guaranteed to win every race, but that is not what Title IX requires,” Block said. “There’s room enough on the podium for everyone.”

Brooks took issue with that statement: “No, there isn’t room for everyone on the victory podium,” he said, noting that plaintiff Chelsea Mitchell, a former high school runner, lost to an athlete who had previously competed on boys’ track teams. 

Connecticut school policy “is in fact giving girls extra lessons in losing,” he said.

During a press conference following Friday’s hearing, Mitchell said she felt demoralized by having to compete against trans athletes. 

“No girl should have to settle into her starting blocks knowing that, no matter how hard you work, you don’t have a fair shot at victory,” Mitchell said. 

Bloomfield High School transgender athlete Terry Miller, second from left, wins the final of the 55-meter dash over transgender athlete Andraya Yearwood, far left, and other runners in the Connecticut girls Class S indoor track meet at Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Conn., on Feb. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Pat Eaton-Robb, File)

She would have won multiple statewide races, Mitchell said, if she had been competing only against other cisgendered women, that is people whose gender identity matches the one they were assigned at birth.

“Four times, I ran races fast enough to take home a state championship,” Mitchell said.

Filed last February in Connecticut federal court, the complaint names the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and five public school districts. 

Last May, the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights under President Donald Trump sent a notice of impending enforcement action to the defendants, warning it could withhold federal funding if schools didn’t change their policies. 

On Wednesday, the education department withdrew that support, a move that follows President Biden’s Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation

With the school system fighting to dismiss the case, U.S. District Robert N. Chatigny mostly kept his thoughts to himself during two hours of oral arguments on Friday. 

As he adjourned, the Clinton-appointed judge thanked both parties for their hard work. 

“It is likely to be a couple or three weeks before I have a decision for you,” Chatigny said, “but I will endeavor to provide you with a decision as soon as possible.”

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