The Trump administration is taking a stand in a lawsuit over transgender girls’ participation in girls’ sports — and, not surprisingly, not on their side.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed what is known as a “statement of interest” Wednesday in a federal lawsuit filed by the families of three cisgender female student athletes in Connecticut. The DOJ supports the families’ argument that trans girls should not be allowed to compete in girls’ interscholastic sports. It also contends that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education, does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.
“The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference … has adopted a policy that requires biological males to compete against biological females — despite the real physiological differences between the sexes — if the male is a transgender individual who publicly identifies with the female gender,” the statement of interest reads. “CIAC claims that ‘federal law’ requires this state of affairs.
“They are incorrect. 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. To the contrary, CIAC’s construction of Title IX as requiring the participation of students on athletic teams that reflect their gender identity would turn the statute on its head.” The DOJ goes on to say that trans girls have an inherent advantage over cis girls, which is something many transgender advocates dispute. The statement is signed by Attorney General William Barr and other federal government officials.
The suit was filed in February in U.S. District Court in Connecticut by the parents of high school athletes Selina Soule, Chelsea Mitchell, and Alanna Smith. They are represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has taken up many anti-LGBTQ causes, and the law firm of Fiorentino, Howard, and Petrone. It names as defendants the Connecticut Association of Schools-Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and the school boards in Bloomfield, Cromwell, Glastonbury, Canton, and Danbury.
It focuses on two trans female athletes, Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood, sprinters who have usually finished ahead of Soule, Mitchell, and Smith. The American Civil Liberties Union is seeking to intervene in the suit to defend the interests of trans athletes.
“Transgender women and girls have been competing in sports at all levels for years, and there is no research supporting the claim that they maintain a competitive advantage,” the ACLU’s Shayna Medley and Galen Sherwin wrote in a recent blog post. “… All athletes, cis and trans, compete with different advantages, but only some are questioned.”
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, issued a statement denouncing the DOJ’s filing. “Our country faces an unprecedented public health crisis, but the Trump administration and Attorney General Barr remain focused of banning transgender girls from participating in school sports,” she said. “It’s unclear why the Attorney General rushed to file this brief in a case he’s not a part of, when schools are closed for a historic emergency and sports seasons are canceled. While the Department of Justice’s brief repeats its by-now familiar and clearly incorrect argument that federal law offers no protection to transgender youth, the brief also implies that even allowing trans students to play, as most states do, is ‘in tension’ with federal law. Our county needs to come together during this challenging and dangerous time, but the Trump administration and Attorney General Barr are focused on division and unnecessarily harming transgender student athletes.”
GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, a Boston-based legal nonprofit, also condemned the move. “The current administration has been attacking vulnerable transgender youth since President Trump first took office, and it's no surprise that they are doing so again,” said a statement from Jennifer Levi, director of GLAD’s transgender rights project. “What is surprising is the decision to prioritize this attack during a national public health emergency, when young people across the country are already struggling to cope with school shutdowns as well as cancellations of recreational activities, sports seasons, after-school jobs, graduation ceremonies, and more. During this moment of tremendous stress and anxiety, young people across the country, as well as school communities, are looking for support and guidance from our government, not polarizing and legally unfounded attacks on vulnerable kids and their families.”
Several states have considered legislation barring trans student athletes from competing according to their gender identity. Idaho is the first state where both houses of the legislature have passed such a bill. It awaits Gov. Brad Little’s signature or veto, for which Tuesday is the deadline. LGBTQ advocates have called on him to veto it.