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Biden administration withdraws support from lawsuit challenging transgender athlete inclusion

Lawsuit seeks to overrule Connecticut's policy allowing trans athletes to compete in their gender identity

trans, transgender, student athlete, track, running
Photo: tableatny, via Wikimedia.

The Biden administration has withdrawn support for a lawsuit filed by three Connecticut athletes seeking to bar transgender athletes from competing in interscholastic sports based on their gender identity.

The Justice Department and the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights withdrew their support for the case ahead of a hearing scheduled for Friday to determine whether the lawsuit should be dismissed.

The lawsuit in question was filed last year by the anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of three cisgender female athletes who claimed they and other cisgender girls were disadvantaged by the participation of two transgender track-and-field athletes — Terry Miller, of Bloomfield High School, and Andraya Yearwood, of Cromwell High School, in Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference sporting events.

The girls sued the CIAC and multiple school boards, claiming policies allowing transgender athletes to compete in high school sports based on their gender identity deny cisgender females opportunities to win awards, qualify for regional and national meets, and earn athletic scholarships to colleges.

They also argued that the transgender-inclusive policy violates the spirit of Title IX of the Education Amendment Act of 1972, which was intended to prohibit sex-based discrimination by providing equal opportunities to women by allowing them to participate in sports and receive equal amounts of funding as sports teams designated for boys.

Last March, former Attorney General William Barr, on behalf of the Justice Department, signed a statement of interest in the case, arguing that transgender inclusion runs afoul of Title IX. The Educations Department’s Office for Civil Rights, under then-Secretary Betsy DeVos, sent letter to several Connecticut school districts threatening to cut off federal funding from districts abiding by CIAC policy.

For its part, the CIAC has said its policy is intended to align with the state’s civil rights law, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity.

But on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press, Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham and other Justice Department officials withdrew Barr’s previous statement of interest, saying: “The government has reconsidered the matter.”

In addition, Suzanne Goldberg, the Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, sent a letter to the school districts that had been threatened by DeVos, informing them that the department was withdrawing the letters “as well as the underlying findings and determinations,” and does not wish to become a party to the Connecticut lawsuit.

See also: Biden’s Education Secretary nominee confirms support for trans athletes

Dan Barrett, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, told The AP that Tuesday’s action could be “a hint that the government the Department of Education, may now have a different view of Title IX.”

President Joe Biden recently signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, embracing the concept, as argued in a recent Supreme Court case, that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex-based discrimination. Opponents of transgender participation have been frothing at the mouth, claiming the executive order will mean the end of women’s athletics. Lawmakers in at least 20 states have introduced bills to bar transgender athletes from competing based on their gender identity, and have pointed to Biden’s executive order to argue that they must pass their own bans as quickly as possible.

Chase Strangio, the deputy director for Trans Justice with the national ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, which has intervened in the case on behalf of Miller and Yearwood, celebrated the Biden administration’s decision and called out some of the anti-transgender bills being proposed in state legislatures.

“Our clients Andraya and Terry ran on the girls’ team because they are girls. They had no other options and ran because they loved the sport and were affirmed and celebrated by their schools, coaches, and teammates,” Strangio said in a statement. “The Biden administration’s actions show that transgender students are protected from discrimination under federal law. States and schools looking to ban transgender students from spaces and activities that accord with their gender not only face potential lawsuits, but a loss of federal funding. These attacks on transgender youth should be abandoned now.”

Despite the withdrawal of the federal government, the lawsuit will likely continue unless dismissed at Friday’s hearing. 

In a statement, Alliance Defending Freedom vowed to continue fighting for a ban on transgender athletes, blasting the Biden administration’s decision as “politically motivated.”

“Defying common sense, the U.S. Department of Education under the Biden administration has abandoned its support for the deserving female athletes who have been sidelined and outpaced by males dominating girls’ sports,” said Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel for ADF and a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

“But the government’s politically motivated reversal can’t change biological reality or the correct interpretation of the law. Males will always have inherent physical advantages over comparably talented and trained girls; that’s the reason we have girls’ sports in the first place,” Holcomb added. “In fact, Title IX exists precisely because of these differences and is intended to ensure that women and girls have an equal opportunity to compete, achieve, and win. We’re disappointed that our nation’s leaders have chosen to desert high school girls and pretend that their opportunities aren’t worth protecting. Girls and women in Connecticut — and across the country — deserve better.”

But Connecticut Attorney General William Tong welcomed the federal government’s decision, issuing a statement defending the state’s current nondiscrimination policies.

“Transgender girls are girls and every woman and girl deserves protection against discrimination,” Tong said. “Period.”

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