August 8, 2019 at 3:13 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Education Dept. agrees to take up anti-trans complaint from girl athletes
Betsy DeVos, sexual assault, gay news, Washington Blade
The Education Department under Betsy DeVos has taken up an anti-trans complaint filed by girl athletes. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Trump administration has agreed to investigate a complaint from an anti-LGBT legal group contending a Connecticut’s school trans-inclusive policy has “denied equal athletic benefits and opportunities to girls.”

The complaint was filed by Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of three teen athletes and accepted by the Department of Education Wednesday at a time when opponents of LGBT non-discrimination measures are stoking fears over men playing in women’s sports to derail those efforts.

In the complaint, ADF contends the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s trans-inclusive policy of non-discrimination unfairly requires girl athletes in the Glastonbury School District to compete against “boys who are male in every biological and physiological respect,” who are presumably transgender girls.

Unlike major sports leagues the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the policy as laid out in the CIAC handbook doesn’t require transgender athletes to take testosterone-suppressing hormones and relies solely on the student and her school for gender identification.

As such, the complaint argues the trans-inclusive policy violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex in public schools. (Transgender advocates have relied on that law to assert protections for transgender kids in schools — an argument ADF now turns on its head.)

Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel for ADF, said in a statement upon the Department of Education accepting the complaint “female athletes deserve to compete on a level playing field.”

“Forcing them to compete against boys makes them spectators in their own sports, which is grossly unfair and destroys their athletic opportunities,” Holcomb added.

One of the girl athletes, Selina Soule, is named in the complaint, but the other two are identified anonymously as second and third complainant.

According to the complaint, two students — Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood — presumably transgender, but identified as “biological males” in the complaint, placed in top places in the women’s outdoor track events. If not for their placement, the complaint contends, Soule and the other girl athletes would have been able to qualify to the finals.

“Nor are these isolated examples,” the complaint says. “The presence of boys competing in CIAC girls’ track and field events in Connecticut has now deprived many girls of opportunities to achieve public recognition, a sense of reward for hard work, opportunities to participate in higher level competition and the visibility necessary to attract the attention of college recruiters and resulting scholarships.”

In addition to contesting about the policy itself, the complaint asserts the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and Glastonbury High School retaliated against the students and their parents for complaining about the trans-inclusive policy.

The Department of Education says its Office of Civil Rights has “determined that it has jurisdiction and that the allegations were timely filed” in the case, therefore will open up three issues for investigation:

  • Whether the CIAC and the district have “denied equal athletic benefits and opportunities to girls,” including the students in the complaint through its trans-inclusive policy.
  • Whether the CIAC retaliated against a student’s mother for speaking out against the trans-inclusive policy by informing her CIAC’s executive director would no longer accept her communications from her.
  • Whether the district retaliated against a student for advocacy against the trans-inclusive policy when the track coach replaced her on the sprint medley relay team, told her he could not give a good report to college coaches about her, denied her a position as a team captain and suggested she should leave the outdoor track team due to her schedule.

Schools found in violation of Title IX, as ADF contends, risk losing federal funds, although the Department of Education would more likely institute an agreement to bring such a school into compliance with the law.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference seeking comment on the Department of Education taking up an investigation in the case. The Glastonbury Board of Education declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has drastically cut back on accepting complaints from students of anti-LGBT harassment and discrimination at school. 

After rescinding Obama-era guidance requiring schools to allow transgender kids to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity, the Department of Education has indicated it won’t take up complaints of transgender students denied access to the bathroom of their choice.

Moreover, according to a recent report from the Center for American Progress, complaints from LGBT students at the Department of Education under the Trump administration are more than nine times less likely to result in corrective action than they were under the Obama administration.

Gillian Branstetter, a spokesperson for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said the Connecticut school’s non-discrimination policy ensures fairness for all students.

“Policies like those in Connecticut are in place in 17 states and thousands of schools across the country and have ensured fair opportunity for every student athlete,” Branstetter said. “This is yet another desperate attempt by the ADF to strip transgender students of the rights every student deserves and policies that provide them the same opportunities as every other student.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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