The U.S. Department of Education has launched an investigation into a Connecticut high school sports policy that allows athletes who identify as transgender to compete against the opposite biological sex.
The families of three female high school track athletes complained in June to the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference policy discriminates against them. The complaint argues that forcing female athletes to compete against boys who identify as girls but have “male hormone levels and musculature” costs them higher race finishes and potential college scholarships. It also, according to the complaint, violates Title IX, the federal law designed to ensure equal opportunities for women and girls in education and school-based athletics.
Two boys who identify as girls have consistently displaced female high school track athletes in Connecticut during the 2017, 2018, and 2019 seasons. Andraya Yearwood won the Class M girls outdoor 100-meter and 200-meter races in 2017 as a freshman, taking third in the 2017 state open girls outdoor 100-meter race despite biologically being a boy. The next year, Terry Miller, who competed as a boy during the winter 2017, spring 2017, and winter 2018 seasons, later began identifying as female and competing in female track events. Since the spring 2018 season, Miller has dominated the girls indoor 55-meter, indoor 300-meter, and outdoor 100-meter. Miller and Yearwood took first and second place at last year’s girls outdoor 100-meter state open championships and this year’s girls indoor 55-meter state open championships.
Their victories amount to taking 15 girls state championship titles and more than 40 opportunities to participate in higher-level competition from female track athletes in the last three years, according to the complaint. “While highly competitive girls are experiencing the no doubt character-building ‘agony of defeat,’ they are systematically being deprived of a fair and equal opportunity to experience the ‘thrill of victory,’” the complaint says.
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference said it will cooperate with the investigation but defended the policy, saying a state anti-discrimination law requires schools to treat students according to their gender identities.
Connecticut does not require transgender high school athletes to undergo hormone therapy or surgery before competing as their gender identity. (Yearwood and Miller said they started hormone therapy last year.) Some have argued Connecticut, like a handful of other state conferences as well as the International Olympic Committee (IOC), should require male-to-female transgender athletes to maintain suppressed testosterone levels, a regulation they claim would level the playing field and solve the problem.
But science says otherwise. A study released last month in the Journal of Medical Ethics found male-to-female transgender athletes who abide by the 2015 IOC guidelines and maintain suppressed testosterone levels still have a significant advantage over female athletes. The New Zealand–based researchers argued the IOC testosterone limit (10 nmol/L) is still significantly higher than the average for elite biological female athletes. They said hormone therapy does not eliminate all the performance advantages of a prior male physiology and concluded current IOC regulations further “intolerable unfairness.” In the face of vicious backlash online, the authors this week released a statement on the journal’s website clarifying they embrace transgender participation in sports, but advocate for the elimination of the gender binary in elite sports in favor of a more “nuanced system of categorization.”
The three girls who filed the complaint in Connecticut are after something much simpler: They want to run against other girls. “No solution can be truly fair if it results in biological males coming in and taking medals, podium spots, opportunities to advance, or scholarship opportunities from biological females,” Christiana Holcomb, the attorney representing the complainants and a legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, told me. Holcomb said her clients have received support from across the political and ideological spectrum: “Average Americans recognize the blatant unfairness.”
There is no timeline on the investigation. Holcomb said it could take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years to resolve. But she said the results are important: “If the U.S. Department of Education declares that a policy of this nature violates Title IX, that will have ramifications across the country.”