Law & Courts

Federal Judge Dismisses Challenge to Transgender-Inclusive Athletics Policy in Connecticut

By Mark Walsh — April 26, 2021 3 min read
In this Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019 photo, Bloomfield High School transgender athlete Terry Miller, second from left, wins the final of the 55-meter dash over transgender athlete Andraya Yearwood, left, and other runners in the Connecticut girls Class S indoor track meet at Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Conn. In the track-and-field community in Connecticut, the dominance of Miller and Yearwood has stirred resentment among some competitors and their families.
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A federal district judge has dismissed a high-profile challenge to a policy in Connecticut of allowing transgender females to participate in girls scholastic sports.

U.S. District Judge Robert H. Chatigny of Hartford, Conn., ruled Sunday that the case was moot because two prominent transgender track athletes, Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller, had graduated and the cisgender female athletes who objected to the transgender-inclusive policy of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletics Association are unlikely to have to compete against other transgender girls before they graduate.

“I conclude that the request to enjoin enforcement of the CIAC policy has become moot due to the graduation of Yearwood and Miller, whose participation in girls’ track provided the impetus for this action,” the judge said his April 25 opinion in Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools.

Chatigny said “there is no indication” that two cisgender female track athletes who are the challengers still in school, Alanna Smith and Ashley Nicoletti, will encounter competition by a transgender student in a CIAC-sponsored event next season.

The CIAC adopted its transgender participation policy in 2013 to defer to a student’s own gender identity and a school district’s determination of the student’s eligibility based on the student’s gender identity in school records and everyday school life.

In 2019, the participation of Yearwood and Miller in girls’ track competitions, in which they won or finished second in several events, prompted complaints from several parents and cisgender female athletes, who sued the CIAC and a number of Connecticut school districts in February 2020.

The challengers argue that the CIAC policy put them at a competitive disadvantage and violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs.

Around the same time, the challengers had filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights, and that office under President Donald Trump’s administration last year issued a letter declaring that the CIAC policy violated Title IX. In February, the OCR under President Joe Biden’s administration withdrew that letter.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic soon shut down 2020 track and field competitions, and some of the challengers graduated, as did the two transgender athletes.

Chatigny said that the cisgender girls could file a new claim for relief if additional transgender girls became participants in girls track. The judge denied the challengers’ request to remove Yearwood and Miller from the CIAC’s athletic records and move the challengers up in the order of finish of the races, which the challengers contend would be relevant in their efforts to get college scholarships or jobs.

The judge also denied money damages to the challengers under Title IX.

The ruling is a victory for the CIAC and its member schools, and for Yearwood and Miller, who intervened in the case with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union. But the dismissal of the case on mootness grounds means the judge did not reach the larger Title IX questions that have bubbled up across the country amid a larger debate over the participation of female transgender athletes in girls’ sports.

While the challengers said Title IX was on their side because transgender-inclusive policies harmed “biologically female” athletes, those on the other side contend Title IX requires schools to permit transgender girls to participate in sports consistent with their gender identity.

Chatigny said in a footnote to his opinion that the issue of transgender females participating in girls’ and women’s athletics “implicates opposing interests that are not easily reconciled.”

He cited an article that appeared in the Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy in 2020 by Doriane Lambelet Coleman, Michael J. Joyner, and Donna Lopiano titled “Re-affirming the Value of the Sports Exception to Title IX’s General Non-Discrimination Rule.”

That paper argues that “whether one is trans or not, if one is in sport and cares about sex equality,” the physical phenomenon of male puberty “is undeniably relevant.”

That paper is one piece of a larger discussion in which even some longtime Title IX advocates have raised questions about allowing all transgender females to participate in girls’ and women’s sports, including this April 15 article in The Washington Post.

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