Complaint targets transgender HS track athletes

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Three Connecticut girls who have run high school track have filed a federal discrimination complaint saying a statewide policy on transgender athletes has cost them top finishes in races and possibly college scholarships.

The complaint, filed Monday with the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights, was submitted by the law firm Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of the girls, who are asking for an investigation of the policy and orders that would make competitions fair. The complaint also cites the federal Title IX rules aimed at equal rights in sports for female athletes.

"Girls deserve to compete on a level playing field," said Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom. "Women fought long and hard to earn the equal athletic opportunities that Title IX provides. Allowing boys to compete in girls' sports reverses nearly 50 years of advances for women under this law. We shouldn't force these young women to be spectators in their own sports."

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, which governs high school sports in the state, says its policy follows a state anti-discrimination law requiring students to be treated in school according to the gender with which they identify. That means that athletes can compete according to their expressed gender identity as opposed to their sex assigned at birth.

Glenn Lungarini, executive director of CIAC, told The Hartford Courant on Tuesday that the governing body had not been contacted by the Office of Civil Rights, but that it would cooperate fully.

"The CIAC is committed to equity in providing opportunities to student athletes in Connecticut," he said in a statement. "We take such matters seriously, and we believe that the current CIAC policy is appropriate under both Connecticut law and Title IX."

Lungarini added that CIAC reviewed the language with the Office of Civil Rights in Boston to ensure compliance with Title IX and discussed the policy with Connecticut's Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

"I have faced discrimination in every aspect of my life and I no longer want to remain silent," Terry Miller, one of the two transgender athletes identified in the complaint, told The Courant. "I am a girl and I am a runner. I participate in athletics just like my peers to excel, find community and meaning in my life. It is both unfair and painful that my victories have to be attacked and my hard work ignored."

Miller, along with Andraya Yearwood, the other athlete identified in the complaint, is working with the American Civil Liberties Union.

"I have known two things for most of my life," Yearwood said in a statement to The Courant. "I am a girl and I love to run. There is no shortage of discrimination that I face as a young black woman who is transgender.

"I am lucky to live in a state that protects my rights and to have a family that supports me. That is what keeps me going."

The national ACLU staff attorney, Chase Strangio, called the situation "heartbreaking" in a statement to the Courant on Wednesday.

"Efforts to undermine Title IX by claiming it doesn't apply to a subset of girls will ultimately hurt all students," Strangio said in the statement.

The argument that gender identity amounts to an unfair advantage in sports is a recurring one in the complex debate around intersex and transgender athletes as they break barriers in sports around the world from high school to the pros.

Earlier this week, Olympic running sensation Caster Semenya won an interim ruling in her battle against track and field's governing body. The Swiss supreme court ordered the suspension of regulations that would require female runners with unusually high testosterone to take medication to reduce their levels of the male sex hormone if they want to compete in certain events.

The complaint from Connecticut says transgender girls have been consistently winning track and field events and the policy violates federal protections for female athletes.

The athletes who filed the complaint include Selina Soule, of Glastonbury High School, and two others whose names and schools were not disclosed.

Soule told The Associated Press earlier this year, after competing in a 55-meter dash won by a transgender student, that the issue is about fairness on the track.

"We all know the outcome of the race before it even starts; it's demoralizing," she said. "I fully support and am happy for these athletes for being true to themselves. They should have the right to express themselves in school, but athletics have always had extra rules to keep the competition fair."

Connecticut is one of at least 17 states that allow transgender high school athletes to compete without restrictions, according to Transathlete.com, which tracks state policies in high school sports across the country.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.