The life of a transgender adolescent is difficult enough, what with both teenage tribulations and struggling with gender identity. Yet, out of the nearly 150,000 transgender teenagers across America, the majority are forced to endure discrimination, criticism, and abuse in addition to their already troubling lives.
There’s no denying that much of society has become more accepting of transgender individuals due to the work of years of activism; most first-world countries have progressed from forcing transgender people into asylums to celebrating transgender pride events and implementing gender-neutral bathrooms.
In spite of these strides, society has made towards equality for transgender individuals, the shadows of discrimination still linger. Transgender adults face frequent discrimination within housing and employment, being twice as likely to experience unemployment, and 90 percent of those employed reporting discrimination in their occupations. Of those who are unemployed, the National Center of Transgender Equality estimates that they are at risk for “ruinous consequences, such as being four times as likely to experience homelessness.”
Transgender minors aren’t safe from the strains of prejudice either. Of those who identify as being transgender or or gender non-conforming in school, 78 percent reported high levels of harassment, 35 percent reported physical assault, and 15 percent reported abuse so severe they were forced to leave the school they were attending.
One would think that others should be able to recognize transgender students for who they really are—children who are just trying to live their lives and explore the world. One would think that given the recurring abuses transgender students face, others would be encouraging of any activity—academics, music, or sports—transgender students participate in as a way of bringing joy to their lives full of hardships. Yet, the case of Soule v. Connecticutmodels how discrimination will follow transgender individuals throughout their lives, even through activities they love and choose to engage in.
Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools gained traction in the American media when parents first started petitioning for the case in late 2018. The case represents three Connecticut high school girls and their mothers—Selina Soule, Chelsea Mitchell, and Alanna Smith (all willfully named in the suit), along with their mothers Bianca Stanescu, Christina Mithcell, and Cheryl Radachowsky respectively—seeking relief and damages from the Connecticut Association of Schools, also known as the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), for permitting transgender females to compete alongside cisgender females in track and field and other sports.
Soule, Mitchell, and Smith are all track and field athletes who have “trained much of their life…to gain [athletic] opportunities” and scholarships. They believe that their access to those opportunities and scholarships are being negatively impacted by the CIAC policy allowing for transgender female athletes to compete as females, so much so that the girls claim that their Title IX rights—which grant them equal access to athletic participation and championship—are being violated.
Despite the United States Education Department finding that the CIAC allowing transgender female athletes to compete alongside cisgender females violates a civil rights law that protects cisgender female athletes, the CIAC still remains firm that their policy abides by state law and the state’s interpretation of Title IX. Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools remains undecided as of today, but a conversation regarding the lawsuit’s lack of a legal, scientific or moral foundation has yet to be held or addressed still
The notion that this specific CIAC policy is violating Title IX is thoroughly false. The plaintiffs in Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools assert that Title IX guarantees that “no person shall, on the basis of sex, be denied the benefits of…participation in an interscholastic club or intramural athletics.” Given that the Cromwell, Danbury, Bloomfield, Glastonbury, and Canton Public School Districts (all districts abiding by CIAC policy and thus defendants in the case) are federally-funded educational institutions, they are subject to Title IX. Given that the CIAC is dependent upon the membership of federally-funded educational institutions, the CIAC is also subject to Title IX. In this instance, the plaintiffs argue that if the CIAC policy allowing transgender athletes to compete remains followed and unchanged, female athletes will be competing with “biological males” and thus stripped of athletic opportunities and their chances at an equal competition, making it so that each party abides by the CIAC policy violates Title IX.
While this is true, they also fail to acknowledge that Connecticut’s interpretation of Title IX—authorized by the provision in the Act that requires states to have a Title IX Coordinator—extends the basis of sex to gender identity. Section 10-15c of the Connecticut Title IX Act goes so far as to allow any child an equal opportunity to “participate in the activities…offered at public schools…without discrimination on account of…sex, gender identity or expression.”
If the Bloomfield Public School District and the Cromwell Public School District (specifically called out in the case for allowing athletes Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood to compete as their respected gender) barred their transgender athletes from competing as the gender they identify as, then both school districts would violate Title IX in Connecticut because the districts would then be invalidating and thus discriminating against the gender identity of transgender athletes. If the CIAC retracts their policy enabling transgender athletes to compete with respect to their gender identity, then the CIAC would be preventing transgender athletes from receiving the same rights as cisgender athletes to compete with their respected gender, discriminating against the gender identity of transgender athletes. If the other named school districts (recognized in the suit for adhering by the CIAC policy) refused to participate in the CIAC due to the policy enabling transgender athletes to compete as the gender they identify as, then those schools would be subject to scrutiny for discriminating against transgender individuals, alongside disappointing their scholar-athletes who merely wish to compete.
In response to these claims about Title IX as it pertains to Connecticut, the plaintiffs and their attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom may argue that the interpretation of Title IX lies in the hands of the national government. Congress “expressly [delegates] authority to the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare” and other cabinet departments to “promulgate regulations interpreting Title IX,” the power to interpret the act lies in the legislative and executive branch. However, the Trump administration rescinded the Department of Justice and Department of Education-sponsored 2016 “Dear Colleague” letter which permitted all students to participate in sex-segregated activities per their gender identity, meaning Title IX no longer extends gender identity to the term of “sex.” Consequently, permitting transgender athletes to compete with their gender identity would now be in violation of the act’s provision claiming “equal opportunity on the basis of sex.”
In reality, though, the power for states to interpret Title IX was actually strengthened under the Trump administration, making Connecticut’s extension of Title IX rights to transgender individuals all the more valid. Upon withdrawing the “Dear Colleague” letter’s validity and guidance, the Trump administration explicitly said that “there must be due regard for the primary role of the States and local school districts in establishing educational policy.” Indeed there should be, as educational policies are guaranteed by the 10th amendment, which extends duties not delegated to the national government (education being one of them) to state governmental guidance.
Furthermore, any support the national government showed towards the plaintiff’s side during the Trump administration has since been withdrawn by the Biden administration. On February 24th, President Biden withdrew the Department of Education letters sent to Connecticut schools that threatened to withhold federal funding if they complied with the CIAC’s decision in allowing transgender individuals to compete. Since then, he has signed the Executive Order on Guaranteeing an Educational Environment Free from Discrimination on the Basis of Sex, Including Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity, which prevents girls like Yearwood and Miller from being discriminated against while competing and allows them to express their true identity.
Despite this, the plaintiffs in the suit are insisting that the Title IX clause, which gives girls the right to equal athletic treatment, is still violated by transgender females competing with a medically-proven biological male advantage.
In response, Dr. Myron Genel, a Yale professor emeritus of pediatric endocrinology and member of the International Olympic Committee’s Medical Commission on issues regarding gender identity in athletics, clarified, “A level playing field is a fallacy. There are so many other factors that may provide a competitive advantage.”
Female athletes of different races will have different heights – with the average height for a black or white American woman being around 5’4 in comparison to the average height for a Hispanic or Asian American woman being around 5’1.5. Women of a certain race will, therefore, have a competitive advantage in track and field. Additionally, the differences in weights, speed of twitch fibers (pace at which your muscles move), and muscle mass between each female athlete can present physical disparities in sports.
Take the potential economic differences between girls in sports as another example. Connecticut has the second-largest gap nationwide between the average incomes of the top one percent and the bottom 99 percent, and its funding differences across educational institutions are massive. Although One very wealthy student will have access to the best equipment, personal trainers, and facilities available, another impoverished student may have to run in cheap athletic attire without equal access to the same training wealthy students receive. Where one school with more funding may be able to appropriately support all seasons of track and field, another school with less funding may only be able to host one season of track and field or none at all.
The playing field in sports will never be equal. There will always be physical, economic, and environmental dissimilarities amongst athletes. Why target transgender female athletes for having supposed athletic advantages when nearly every cisgender female athlete has their own inherent athletic advantage? Why target transgender female athletes when they experience problems that disproportionately affect their athletic performances, similar to cisgender females?
“What about all of the races Miller and Yearwood won?” one may ask. “What about how Miller and Yearwood are unbeatable by cisgender female athletes?” Well, if Miller and Yearwood truly harbored the “significant doping” and the “powerful physiological athletic advantage” over females, wouldn’t there be fewer instances of Miller and Yearwood being beaten by female athletes? Before Miller and Yearwood transitioned, they were strong athletic contenders. Miller, who competed on the boys’ team in the 2017 and 2018 Indoor Season placed high in many of her races, notably placing 9th in the 2017 HPHS City Meet and 10th in the 2018 Hartford City Meet. Surely strong contenders on the boys’ team would win most meets due to their biological advantages?
Yet, Yearwood was not able to place first in any CIAC championship from 2019 to 2020, even as a more experienced upperclassman. Miller was defeated in races on many occasions, notably by Chelsea Mitchell in the 2020 Class S 55-meter dash. Furthermore, the differences in times the plaintiffs cited between the best high school male and female athletes are more significant than the differences in times between Yearwood, Miller, and their cisgender fellow athletes. Where the best high school indoor 60m times typically varied around one second between girls and boys, Yearwood and Miller’s times are on par with those of other successful Connecticut female athletes. The claimed “significant margin” Miller or Yearwood had when they won over the rest of the female competitors is false. The pair of athletes won by at most a typical .1 to .2 second margin, which—while still a significant margin of time in the world of track—is feasible by a cisgender female athlete (and was done by Mitchell during many events, such as the aforementioned 2020 Class S 55-meter dash). When Miller or Yearwood didn’t win, their times were similar to their competitors, like when Yearwood ran 12.29 seconds in the 2018 CIAC Open 100m in comparison to the 12.33 seconds her third-place competitor ran. Yearwood and Miller’s performances hardly reflect the competitive advantage men have over women, and rather reflect the hard work poured into the sport the two athletes love despite the disadvantages they face for being transgender.
The conspiracy touted constantly by critics of Yearwood and Miller is deplorable. Miller did not “conveniently” start to compete as a female after competing as a male in the 2018 winter season; Miller did not transition to being female in order to win championships. Transitioning, taking hormones, and publicly identifying as transgender are all life-altering decisions that often result in overwhelming criticism, harassment, and abuse from others. Miller reportedly was prepared for the “backlash,” but that doesn’t mean she deserves it. She’s simply an athlete doing what she loves, in addition to being a brilliant young woman who wants to “speak out” for other people like her.
Yearwood isn’t someone pretending to be female for the sake of a trophy. For her, track is what she loves to do and she aims to inspire other people to do what they love no matter the obstacles. Her parents claim that their biggest priority is making sure Yearwood is “who she wants to be,” which includes running on the girl’s track team. “That holds more weight than a medal,” Yearwood’s mother Ngozi Nnaji asserted.
Much of the criticism Yearwood and Miller receive is riddled with bias and prejudice as well. The organization providing attornies to the plaintiffs—the Alliance Defending Freedom, or ADF—is notorious for their anti-LGBT sentiments, opposing same-sex marriage, LGBT unions, and same-sex couples adopting. The organization has supported anti-LGBT groups fighting the decriminalization of sodomy in Jamaica and supported a Belize law that would make sodomy a criminal offense. Considering the LGBT community includes transgender individuals, the possibility of the ADF, by supporting this case, is more interested in destroying the rights of transgender individuals rather than defending the rights of female athletes is too dangerous to ignore. Wouldn’t an organization interested in the rights of students at least respect students Yearwood and Miller instead of continuing to misgender them and refer to them as “boys,” even going so far as to call a judge presiding over the lawsuit “prejudiced” for kindly requesting the organization’s lawyers to refer to Yearwood and Miller as transgender females?
The demands the plaintiffs have in the lawsuit demonstrate a disregard towards transgender athletes entirely. There is no effort to make exceptions for those who transitioned before puberty, no effort to define the appropriate hormonal levels a transgender female needs to compete. Rather, the CIAC policy in its entirety seeks to exclude anyone with XY chromosomes from competing. There is no effort shown to acknowledge the hard work and diligence Yearwood and Miller put into competing. Rather, the plaintiffs are requesting an injunction to remove all of Yearwood and Miller’s athletic records from when they competed as females—a request that could prove to be severely detrimental to the pair’s athletic and college careers. These requests clearly violate the guidelines set proposed by the Women’s Support Foundation, NCAA, and some Department of Education officials; guidelines state, “Transgender athletes should have the equal opportunity to participate in sports [and] policies governing sports should be fair, workable, and practical.”
Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools ultimately presents a choice for the future – choose to follow a suit that lacks key legal information in its argument and further restrict the rights of a marginalized group, or choose to stick by respectable individuals who want to find solace and be themselves and their gender in the sports that they love.