The U.S. Department of Education claims that Connecticut's policy of allowing transgender girls to compete alongside cisgender girls in interscholastic sports violates the civil rights of the latter.
The Education Department made its position known in a letter obtained Thursday by the Associated Press. The letter, which comes in response to a complaint filed by the famlies of three cisgender female athletes, includes a threat to withhold federal funding to Connecticut school sports. Separately, the cis athletes' families have filed a lawsuit in federal court.
The state's trans-inclusive policy is a violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a law that prohibits sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funding, says the DOE's Office for Civil Rights. It has "denied female student-athletes athletic benefits and opportunities, including advancing to the finals in events, higher level competitions, awards, medals, recognition, and the possibility of greater visibility to colleges and other benefits," the letter says, according to the AP.
The finding plays into the argument that trans female athletes have an intrinsic advantage over their cis peers. However, transgender rights advocates say this is unsupported by science. "The truth is, 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. ... All athletes, cis and trans, compete with different advantages, but only some are questioned," the American Civil Liberties Union noted in a blog post last year.
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference's policy is in line with a state law banning anti-transgender discrimination. But the DOE's letter says it will "either initiate administrative proceedings to suspend, terminate, or refuse to grant or continue and defer financial assistance" to the conference and the school districts involved in the complaint or send the cases to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The districts are those "for which the transgender runners and those filing the complaint competed -- Glastonbury, Bloomfield, Hartford, Cromwell, Canton and Danbury," the AP reports.
The Department of Justice has already weighed in on the matter. In March it filed what is known as a "statement of interest" in the lawsuit, arguing that trans girls and women should not be allowed to compete with cisgender female athletes, and even referring to trans females as "biological males."
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 ACLU is seeking to intervene in the suit to defend the interests of trans athletes.
The ADF welcomed the DOE's finding. "Around the nation, districts are going to want to be reading this, because it does have legal implications," ADF attorney Roger Brooks told the AP. "It is a first decision from the agency charged with enforcing Title IX addressing the question of whether males on the playing field or on the track are depriving girls of opportunities consistent with Title IX."
ACLU attorney Chase Strangio, head of transgender justice initiatives for the organization's LGBT and HIV Project, told the news service that "all that today's finding represents is yet another attack from the Trump administration on transgender students. ... Trans students belong in our schools, including on sports teams, and we aren't backing down from this fight."