HARTFORD — Three female high school track competitors filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging a Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference policy that allows transgender students to compete in girls’ athletic events.
Selina Soule, Alanna Smith and Chelsea Mitchell said the policy has resulted in “biological boys” beating them at competitive track events and denying them opportunities to compete at higher levels.
“Forcing female athletes to compete against males is not fair and destroys these girls’ athletic opportunities,” said Christiana Holcomb, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group.
Speaking at a state Capitol news conference, Holcomb said that since 2017 when the CIAC first implemented the policy, two athletes who are “biologically male” have “taken 15 women’s state championship titles” that were previously held by nine different girls. The complaint says the girls, as a result, have been denied 85 opportunities to participate in higher-level competition between 2017 and 2019.
“It is not fair for any boy to compete against girls,” Alanna Smith, a sophomore at Danbury High School, said. “That biological unfairness doesn’t go away because of what someone believes about gender identity. All girls deserve a chance to compete on a level playing field.”
She said her involvement in the complaint “has nothing to do with lifestyle. It’s simply about fairness of play.”
Mitchell, a senior at Canton High School, said she’s run races fast enough to take home a state championship four times, and yet each of those times she’s been denied a medal because of a “biological male.” She said that’s why she’s chosen to join the lawsuit.
Christina Mitchell, Chelsea’s mother, said she knows what it’s like to be told “your daughter has the right to participate, but not to win.”
She said it seems officials in Connecticut are “united in their denial of science and the law.” She said “federal, state and regional officials have succeeded in publicly intimidating anyone who tries to challenge the policy, accusing us of discrimination, bigotry, and human rights violations. They have silenced parents, coaches, school administrators, and worst of all, our daughters.”
Selina Soule, the lead plaintiff in the case and a senior at Glastonbury High School, missed qualifying for the state championship 55-meter final and an opportunity to qualify for the New England championship by one spot during the 2018-19 school year.
Holcomb said they are asking for a preliminary injunction to “stop the policy and restore a level playing field to women’s sports.”
“CIAC may pretend that it’s progressive,” Holcomb said. “But instead the CIAC is violating Title IX.”
The CIAC said it would respond to the lawsuit after it has a chance to review it.
In the meantime, “the CIAC believes that its current policy is appropriate under both state and federal law, and it has been defending that policy in the complaint that was filed previously with the Office of Civil Rights.”
The organization said when it first adopted the policy in 2013 that it “consulted with and relied on statements and advice from numerous bodies and organizations, including the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, the Connecticut Department of Education, the National Federation of State High School Associations, and the Office of Civil Rights.”
Holcomb said the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is still pending, but felt it was necessary to file the lawsuit Wednesday because the high school careers of some of the plaintiffs are coming to an end.
“Regardless of where we stand on a variety of issues I hope we can all agree that turning women’s sports into a co-ed free-for-all simply is not a plausible solution for the social and cultural challenges we’re addressing,” Holcomb said. “When our schools and our society (try) to ignore biological reality, people get hurt. Girls get hurt.”
According to Transathlete, Connecticut is one of 17 states that allow transgender high school athletes to compete without restrictions. Seven states have restrictions on transgender athletes, and five have no clear policy.
Several organizations, including Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, wrote a letter in June in support of the two transgender athletes who are mentioned in the lawsuit.
“We are in solidarity with Andraya Yearwood, Terry Miller, and all other transgender student-athletes in the Constitution State,” the organizations wrote. “As organizations that care deeply about ending discrimination against women and girls, we support laws and policies that protect transgender people from discrimination, including in participation in sports.”
Further, “just like other female athletes, transgender student-athletes have made important contributions to their teams, towns, and our state. In cases when they have achieved athletic success, they should be able to celebrate their hard-earned victories, just like every other student-athlete.”