In Connecticut, Do Transgender Women Have the Right to Play?

There is a right-wing campaign afoot using the presence of transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming women in sports as a stalking horse to attack the already limited and precarious civil rights held by the trans community. Around the country, legislation is being introduced aimed at keeping high school trans athletes off the playing field. But a new level of TDS (trans derangement syndrome) is being posited by a lawsuit in the state of Connecticut.

The thrust of the suit is that (1) trans women are not in fact women, and (2) Title IX, the landmark 1972 law that provides for the equality of resources for women in publicly funded spaces, should not cover trans women. In fact, it can be weaponized against them.

These dangerous, reactionary assumptions are on the table thanks to a powerful Christian conservative legal organization and the people it has fronting for its lawsuit. Three cisgender high school girls—Selina Soule, Chelsea Mitchell, Alanna Smith—and their mothers put their names on a suit against the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s policy that allows trans girls to compete in races with cisgender female opponents. In their suit, they misgender two track and field competitors, saying that it is time to call for an end to “boys displacing girls in competitive track events in Connecticut.”

These mothers and daughters are the tip of the spear for the organization running this effort, a powerful, connected, and shadowy (is there any other kind?) conservative think tank called the Alliance Defending Freedom. Previously, the ADF, called “the largest legal force of the religious right” by The New York Times, has taken cases to the Supreme Court in the name of abortion restrictions and attacks on LGBTQ rights.

If there was a bakery that didn’t want to sell a wedding cake to an LGBTQ ceremony, the ADF would be there. They have been designated a “hate group” by the Southern Policy Law Center, something they trumpet as a way to gin up donations. Now, they have a new target and a new agenda: specifically going after trans people—and it goes way beyond sports.

Again misgendering trans women in all their statements, ADF attorney Christiana Holcomb said,

Girls deserve to compete on a level playing field. Forcing them to compete against boys isn’t fair, shatters their dreams, and destroys their athletic opportunities.

They want Title IX—a law they would undoubtedly have opposed when it was passed in 1972—to be used as a cudgel to deny trans people their rights.

The two trans girls (they’re not “boys”) mentioned by name in the lawsuit are Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood, two Connecticut track athletes and state champions. Both athletes responded to the suit via the ACLU website. Miller said,

“The more we are told that we don’t belong and should be ashamed of who we are, the fewer opportunities we have to participate in sports at all.… There is a long history of excluding Black girls from sports and policing our bodies. I am a runner and I will keep running and keep fighting for my existence, my community, and my rights.”

Yearwood also shared that it hurts that these kinds of organizations “not only want to tear down my successes, but take down the laws and policies that protect people like me.”

I reached out to Chase Strangio, the ACLU attorney for Miller and Yearwood as well as deputy director for trans justice at the ACLU. He said: “The lawsuit brought by the three cis girls represented by Alliance Defending Freedom in Connecticut is both completely inconsistent with prevailing law and a logical extension of the many attacks on trans existence that we have seen from ADF across the country. Not only does the lawsuit wrongly claim that trans girls are not covered by Title IX, but the plaintiffs go so far as to suggest that protecting trans people from discrimination violates the Title IX rights of others.

“That argument, if accepted, would prevent any school in the country from protecting trans people from discrimination. ADF and its clients are seeking from the court a decree that trans people do not and cannot belong. No court has ever accepted such a dangerous argument, and we will fight to ensure that they don’t and that trans youth remain protected under both state and federal law.

“Terry and Andraya have worked so hard and have had their entire high school careers and lives tainted and traumatized by relentless and baseless attacks. They are two girls who love to run and who have participated in track alongside their peers and friends only to face a well-funded movement to dehumanize them. It is wrong as a matter of law and basic decency.”

Connecticut is one of just 17 states that allow transgender high school athletes to compete without restrictions. Yet the supposition behind the lawsuit—that being trans offers an automatic athletic advantage—is not as nearly “common sense” as they want us to believe. In fact, just last week, Chelsea Mitchell defeated Terry Miller at a meet. Mitchell was asked afterward about whether her victory kind of shoots the entire premise of her lawsuit to smithereens. She said, “I don’t think [her victory] could go against [it], there’s still tons of girls that lose on a daily basis.” (There are not in fact “tons of girls that lose on a daily basis.”) Miller, for her part, applauded Mitchell and said, “I clapped because, for me, I’m not a hater. When you take a win, you take the win. And even if you don’t respect me, I’ll respect you.” If only “respect” could be a two-way street.

Or as Chris Mosier, the founder of transathlete.com, said to me: “The courage it has taken for Andraya and Terry to continue to do what they love, to continue to run in the face of all of this hate and discrimination against them because of who they are, is astounding, and it’s shameful that we’ve put young people in a position to have to defend their existence in order to have the same experience as their cisgender peers.”

Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com