Far-right U.S. Sen. Rand Paul went on a rant against transgender female athletes, saying they'll "destroy girls' athletics," at Wednesday's confirmation hearing for President Biden's nominee for secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona.
Cardona is currently commissioner of education in Connecticut, where last year parents of cisgender female athletes filed a lawsuit seeking to bar trans girls from competing on girls' teams in school sports. Donald Trump's administration sided with the parents, with the Department of Justice filing a "statement of interest" in the suit, which is still pending, and the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights threatening the federal funding of the districts involved if they continued to allow trans girls on girls' teams. The Biden administration will undoubtedly take a different stand.
At the hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, asked Cardona if he'd follow the Office for Civil Rights' directive to exclude trans girls, referring to them as "boys." Cardona responded that if he is confirmed, it would be his duty to support the civil rights of all students.
"What do you think in general about boys running in girls' track meets, like they've been doing in Connecticut?" Paul pressed on. Cardona replied, "I think it's critically important that education systems and educators respect the rights of all students, including students who are transgender, and that they are afforded the opportunities that every other student has to participate in extracurricular activities."
Paul claimed that "the top 20 percent of boys running in track meets beat all of the girls in the state," that allowing trans girls to compete on girls' teams would wipe out girls' sports and make it impossible for (cisgender) girls to win scholarships, and that trans inclusion is "bizarre." Cardona reiterated that it was his duty to protect the rights of all students, and that in Connecticut he has met with both trans athletes and with those who have objections to their inclusion. He said he looked forward to working with Paul and other senators on this issue.
Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Roger Marshall of Kansas also expressed reservations about trans inclusion. "I've got pictures of my eight granddaughters, among some grandsons, behind me," Romney said. "They shouldn't be competing with people who are physiologically in an entirely different category."
But transgender rights advocates and scientists say trans girls and women don't have an unfair advantage over their cisgender counterparts. They have noted that that athletes, male or female, transgender or cisgender, can have competitive advantages for many reasons besides hormones such as testosterone (usually cited as giving advantage to trans females), including body size, access to training, and more.
"LeBron James's kids have access to the best coaches and the best facilities with the best equipment. They're going to have an advantage over somebody," Timothy Roberts, a pediatrician who has studied the effects of hormones on athletic performance, said recently. "And all of those people are still in the same competition."
The American Civil Liberties Union points out that only a handful of trans female athletes have had success in high school and college sports on the U.S., even though hundreds, perhaps thousands, of them are competing. Being included on girls' and women's sports teams, the ACLU notes, offers trans girls a supportive environment that's often lacking in their school experience.
"Women and girls who are trans face discrimination and violence that makes it difficult to even stay in school," Chase Strangio, the ACLU's deputy director for transgender justice, and Gabriel Arkles, a senior staff attorney," wrote in a commentary piece last year. "According to the U.S. Trans Survey, 22 percent of trans women who were perceived as trans in school were harassed so badly they had to leave school because of it. Another 10 percent were kicked out of school. The idea that women and girls have an advantage because they are trans ignores the actual conditions of their lives."
Their article also has this quote from Joshua D. Safer, MD, an expert on transgender medicine: "A person's genetic makeup and internal and external reproductive anatomy are not useful indicators of athletic performance."
In a more recent piece, Strangio wrote that Biden's executive order committing the federal government to protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ people does not "erase women," as critics are saying, but means "this administration is prepared to vigorously defend and enforce the legal protections that LGBTQ people enjoy under federal law," including the right of trans females to participate on sports teams comporting with their gender identity.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ+ rights group, issued a statement denouncing Paul's line of questioning in the hearing. "Transgender girls are girls -- plain and simple," HRC spokesman Lucas Acosta said. "There are thousands of issues facing students across the country during the pandemic, from reopening schools and restarting in-person learning to addressing and protecting the mental health of our children. Yet, despite all of those pressing crises, Sen. Rand Paul chose to exclusively use all of his allotted time to attack transgender children: misgendering, spewing misinformation, and insinuating malintent among children who are just seeking to participate in sports. It is disgraceful that Sen. Paul is choosing to fearmonger in order to score political points at the expense of some of our community's most vulnerable. Secretary-designate Cardona spoke to the truth of the matter: our laws should and do protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. We need a secretary of Education who will fight for every kid, no matter their gender identity. That person is Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona."
Despite Paul's contentiousness, Cardona "breezed through" the hearing, according to Politico. "His nomination appears to be on track for bipartisan support," the publication reports.