(The Center Square) – Four female athletes are locked in a legal battle over transgender athletes that could set major precedent for the same fight playing out in schools around the country.
The four female athletes appealed to a federal court over a Connecticut policy allowing high school males identifying as females to compete against girls. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit heard Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools this week, where the girls’ legal team argued the policy is unfair to girls and hands female sports victories over to transgender athletes.
Selina Soule, Alanna Smith, Chelsea Mitchell and Ashley Nicoletti are the four young women who saw their high school athletic goals thwarted by transgender athletes. They argue the policy violates federal Title IX law, whose “whole purpose was to ensure that girls had equal athletic opportunities to compete – and win – in girls’ sports events.”
“Mitchell, for example, would have won the 2019 state championship in the women’s 55-meter indoor track competition, but because two males took first and second place, she was denied the gold medal,” said Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal group representing the female athletes. “Soule, Smith, and Nicoletti likewise were or have been denied medals and/or advancement opportunities.”
The debate has sparked controversy at the local, state and national level as athletes born biologically male but who identify as female have joined women’s sports and often dominated the competition.
Notably this year, trans athlete Lia Thomas, who was born a biological male, easily beat Olympic silver medalists Emma Weyant and Erica Sullivan in the NCAA 500-yard freestyle championship in March, as The Center Square previously reported.
That same dynamic has played out in Connecticut after the policy in question.
“As a result of the CIAC’s policy, two males were permitted to compete in girls’ athletic competitions beginning in the 2017 track season,” ADF said. “Between them, they took 15 women’s state championship titles (titles held in 2016 by nine different Connecticut girls) and more than 85 opportunities to participate in higher level competitions from female track athletes in the 2017, 2018, and 2019 seasons alone.”
Supporters of the transgender policy argue those in opposition to the new policies are discriminating against transgender athletes.
“Connecticut’s laws preventing discrimination against trans youth in school and sports are consistent with federal law,” said Elana Bildner, ACLU Foundation of Connecticut senior staff attorney. “For years now, Andraya and Terry have carried more on their shoulders, as two Black trans youth, than most adults face in a lifetime. We hope the court will uphold the lower court’s decision so our clients may move forward with their lives, and so all transgender students in Connecticut can rest assured that their rights, humanity, and ability to be fully part of their school communities is not up for debate,”
The girls also say the transgender athlete’s successes take away college scholarship opportunities.
“Girls deserve the same opportunity as boys to excel in athletics. Allowing boys to compete in girls’ sports, as we see happening in Connecticut and elsewhere, deprives girls of the opportunity to be champions, showcase their talents, and potentially earn college scholarships,” said ADF Senior Counsel Christiana Kiefer. “All female athletes deserve to compete on a fair playing field, and we are urging the court to ensure respect for their right to equal treatment and opportunity in sports.”
The four female athletes also testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C. in March of last year.
“When I was a freshman in high school everything changed,” Smith said in her testimony. “I knew I’d be racing against a male who identified as a female at the State Open. I knew I had no chance of winning despite the hours of training and knowing my personal bests in each event. I was defeated before stepping onto the track. I knew it wasn’t fair to me or to any of the other girls competing at the State Open. I knew I had biologically-advantaged competition running against me.”
That question of fairness has been front and center in the debate over school policies on the issue. The girl’s legal team argues that allowing the transgender athletes to compete against girls creates an uneven playing field and threatens the existence of girls sports.
“Males will always have inherent physical advantages over comparably talented and trained girls; Title IX’s whole purpose was to ensure that girls had equal athletic opportunities to compete – and win – in girls’ sports events,” said ADF Senior Counsel Roger Brooks. “And when our laws and policies fail to recognize the real physical differences between males and females, women and girls bear the brunt of the harm. It’s our hope that the 2nd Circuit will give the young women we represent the right to pursue their case and put women’s sports back on a level playing field.”