Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room, … [+]
Allowing transgender girls to compete in school sports with girls who are not transgender is a violation of federal law, and if it’s not stopped in 20 days, Connecticut risks losing federal education funding. That’s the ruling by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, made public Thursday in a report by the Associated Press.
Wrong, says the American Civil Rights Union; one of its most fierce defenders of transgender Americans called the ruling nothing more than another example of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s politically-driven agenda of discrimination, specifically targeting trans girls, and trampling on their rights.
“Today’s finding, which is not a legal ruling, represents another attack from the Trump administration on transgender students,” said Chase Strangio Thursday in a statement. He’s the deputy director for trans justice, with the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project. “Since 2017, DeVos’ Department of Education has taken consistent aim at transgender students. Once again, the administration is wrong on the law and we will continue to defend transgender students under Title IX and the Constitution. Trans students belong in our schools, including on sports teams, and we will not back down from this fight.”
What’s Title IX?
Title IX, the 1972 federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in schools that receive federal funding, is cited by both sides in this ongoing battle. And because of that, it can be confusing for parents and school officials to know what this ruling really means for the children who, afterall, only want to play sports, and for those events to be fair.
Fair for whom, is the question.
The policy in place in Connecticut since 2013, allowing transgender student participation in school sports, “isn’t fair, destroys girls’ athletic opportunities, and clearly violates federal law,” said the legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom. That’s the Christian conservative legal group representing three girls who filed the civil rights complaint, who are now suing to stop trans athletes from competing against them. The ADF has been labeled an “extremist hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its predatory legal maneuvers against LGBTQ Americans.
The girls’ attorney told the AP:
“Around the nation, districts are going to want to be reading this, because it does have legal implications,” Roger Brooks said. “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.”
Wait. Did He Just Say “Males?”
There he goes again. Brooks made headlines earlier this month when he was admonished by U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny to stop calling two young women who are transgender “males.” The judge ordered Brooks to call Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller, whose success in track and field prompted the civil rights complaint and a federal lawsuit, “transgender females” or “transgender girls.” Brooks has filed a request for Judge Chatigny to recuse himself, claiming his order shows “an appearance of bias” and complaining the judge is violating their First Amendment rights.
A spokesperson for the not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization at the center of the complaint and the federal lawsuit, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, has a different view of Title IX, and responded to the Office of Civil Rights’ ruling in a statement:
“Connecticut law is clear and students who identify as female are to be recognized as female for all purposes — including high school sports. To do otherwise would not only be discriminatory but would deprive high school students of the meaningful opportunity to participate in educational activities, including inter-scholastic sports, based on sex-stereotyping and prejudice sought to be prevented by Title IX and Connecticut state law.”
The CIAC and school officials in Bloomfield, Canton, Cromwell, Danbury, Glastonbury and Hartford, Connecticut have been given 20 days to resolve what the Office of Civil Rights calls a violation. According to The New York Times, the OCR said the next step would be for it to suspend, terminate or refuse to grant financial assistance to the association and the districts, or to refer the cases to the Justice Department for further action.
“The threat to withhold federal funding for violating Title IX is nothing more than a pathetic attempt to bully the CIAC and state into accepting the Administration’s narrow interpretation, which pushes trans and non-binary athletes into silence,” said Connecticut State Rep. Jeff Currey. “I applaud the CIAC and their members for taking a position that respects and values all of our student athletes and their educational opportunities, and for supporting policy that ensures athletes like Terry and Andraya can have dignified high school athletic careers.”
The Covid-19 pandemic canceled the spring high school athletic season, robbing both the cisgender (meaning, “not transgender”) girls who don’t want to compete against trans girls and the trans girls themselves from running. The last time one of the plaintiffs, Chelsea Mitchell of Canton, Connecticut, raced against one of those girls, Terry Miller, she beat Miller. Again. It was the second time in eight days she outpaced a trans athlete she accuses of being unbeatable.
Mitchell and her co-plaintiffs — Glastonbury senior Selina Soule and Danbury sophomore Alanna Smith — don’t just want the CIAC and school boards to ban Miller and Yearwood. They want the trans girls’ records erased.
Won’t Women’s Sports Be Ruined?
That’s the question often asked by those who fear what will happen if trans girls and trans women are allowed to compete with other women. Longtime coach and sports policy expert Helen Carroll says that fear is misplaced, because it hasn’t happened yet.
“For the past nine years,” explains Carroll, “transgender athletes have been able to compete on teams at NCAA member collegiates and universities consistent with their gender identity like all other student-athletes with no disruption to women’s collegiate sports.”
Here’s another view, from Sam Brinton, vice president of advocacy & government affairs for The Trevor Project, which is the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people: “Title IX was meant to ensure that gender would never be a barrier to opportunity in our nation’s schools; this decision by the administration to use it instead to exclude transgender athletes completely warps this landmark civil rights law into a tool of discrimination. At The Trevor Project, we hear directly from transgender and nonbinary youth who only want to be included as who they are. They don’t deserve to be sidelined by their federal government.”