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Judge hears arguments in lawsuit over transgender athletes

February 26, 2021 GMT
FILE — In this Feb. 7, 2019 file photo, Cromwell High School track coach Brian Calhoun, left, speaks to transgender athlete Andraya Yearwood during a break at a meet at Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Conn. Lawyers for several Connecticut school districts and the organization that oversees high school sports in the state went before a federal judge Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, seeking the dismissal of a lawsuit that would prevent transgender girls from competing in girl's sports. (AP Photo/Pat Eaton-Robb, File)
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FILE — In this Feb. 7, 2019 file photo, Cromwell High School track coach Brian Calhoun, left, speaks to transgender athlete Andraya Yearwood during a break at a meet at Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Conn. Lawyers for several Connecticut school districts and the organization that oversees high school sports in the state went before a federal judge Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, seeking the dismissal of a lawsuit that would prevent transgender girls from competing in girl's sports. (AP Photo/Pat Eaton-Robb, File)
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FILE — In this Feb. 7, 2019 file photo, Cromwell High School track coach Brian Calhoun, left, speaks to transgender athlete Andraya Yearwood during a break at a meet at Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Conn. Lawyers for several Connecticut school districts and the organization that oversees high school sports in the state went before a federal judge Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, seeking the dismissal of a lawsuit that would prevent transgender girls from competing in girl's sports. (AP Photo/Pat Eaton-Robb, File)

Lawyers for several school districts and the organization that oversees high school sports in Connecticut went before a federal judge Friday seeking the dismissal of a lawsuit that would prevent transgender girls in the state from competing in girls’ sports.

The lawsuit was filed a year ago by several cisgender runners who argue they have been deprived of wins, state titles and athletic opportunities by a state policy that allowed two transgender sprinters to compete against them.

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The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Council has said its policy is designed to comply with a state law that requires all high school students be treated according to their gender identity.

“I loved running in high school, and I loved my teammates on the girls’ team,” Andraya Yearwood, one of the two transgender runners at the center of the case, said in a statement after the hearing. “If I had not been able to run on the girls’ team, I would not have been able to run at all and it would have been so devastating if one of the best part of my high school experience had been taken away.”

The arguments conducted during a video conference hearing Friday centered around Title IX, the federal law that requires equal opportunities for women and girls in education, including sports.

Defense attorney Joshua Block argued the CIAC policy doesn’t deny any girl a meaningful opportunity to participate in sports, but that overturning it would violate the Title IX rights of transgender girls.

“No court, no agency has ever defined a participation opportunity as winning an equal number of trophies,” he argued. “The plaintiffs in this case are accomplished athletes who have gained a great deal from the athletic opportunities offered them and they’ve won national acclaim from that, but there’s room enough on the podium for everyone. And accommodating the interests of these particular athletes doesn’t require schools to shove aside girls who are transgender and deny them participation opportunities too.”

The plaintiffs argue that the rights of cisgender girls under Title IX are being violated in Connecticut by being forced to compete against what they term “biological males.”

Plaintiff attorney Roger Brooks, from the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, argued that the law guarantees girls “equal quality” of competition, which he said is denied by having to race people with what he described as inherent physiological advantages.

“Participation isn’t enough. Meaningful experience isn’t enough,” he said. “Title IX guarantees our daughters equal chances to be champions.”

Brooks argued that the transgender sprinters improperly won 15 championship races between 2017 and 2020 and cost cisgender girls the opportunity to advance to other races 85 times.

Sprinter Chelsea Mitchell, a plaintiff who now runs collegiately at William & Mary, spoke after the hearing and described what she called the demoralizing effects of the CIAC policy. She said losing races to trans runners cost her awards, including several state championships.

“No girl should have to settle into her starting blocks knowing that no matter how hard you work, you don’t have a fair shot at victory,” she said.

The Trump administration’s Justice Department and the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights had sided with the plaintiffs. But the Biden administration withdrew that support earlier this week.

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The Trump administration’s intervention in the case last year came as state legislatures around the country debated restricting transgender athletes’ participation to their gender assigned at birth. Seventeen states considered such legislation, and Idaho passed a law. The Republican-controlled Mississippi Senate overwhelmingly approved a similar bill earlier this month, which is now awaiting action in the House.

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere.

“It was very heartbreaking for me to hear about President Biden’s executive order and that the Equality Act passed in the House,” said Selina Soule, the named plaintiff in the lawsuit, who now runs at the College of Charleston. ”I know that what I am fighting for is right and I will continue fighting for fairness in women’s sports as long as it takes.”

U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny said he expects to issue a ruling on a motion to dismiss the Connecticut lawsuit in two or three weeks.

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This story has been corrected to show that the Mississippi state Senate, not the state Legislature, has passed a bill similar to the Idaho law.