HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut policy that allows transgender athletes to compete as girls in high school sports violates the civil rights of athletes who have always identified as female, according to a letter from the U.S. Education Department’s civil rights office that was obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.
The letter came in response to a complaint filed last year by several cisgender female track athletes who argued that two transgender female runners had an unfair physical advantage.
The office said in the 45-page letter that it may seek to withhold federal funding over the policy, which allows athletes to participate under the gender with which they identify. The policy is a violation of Title IX, the federal civil rights law that guarantees equal education opportunities for women, including in athletics, the office said.
It has “denied female student-athletes athletic benefits and opportunities, including advancing to the finals in events, higher level competitions, awards, medals, recognition, and the possibility of greater visibility to colleges and other benefits,” according to the letter, which is dated May 15.
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference has said its policy is designed to comply with a state law barring schools from discriminating against transgender students. The conference did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday.
Attorneys for the Alliance Defending Freedom, who represent the girls who brought the complaint, said they would comment later Thursday.
The decision by the civil rights office names the conference, along with the school districts for which the transgender runners and those filing the complaint competed — Glastonbury, Bloomfield, Hartford, Cromwell, Canton and Danbury.
The office said it will “either initiate administrative proceedings to suspend, terminate, or refuse to grant or continue and defer financial assistance” to the conference and those districts or refer the cases to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In its letter, the civil rights office said it notified the CIAC and the school districts of its pending decision in February, but that subsequent negotiations failed to result in an agreement over the policy.
“All that today’s finding represents is yet another attack from the Trump administration on transgender students,” said Chase Strangio, deputy director of the funding initiative Trans Justice.
“Trans students belong in our schools, including on sports teams, and we aren’t backing down from this fight,” Strangio said.
The dispute, which is already the subject of a federal lawsuit, centers on two transgender sprinters, Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood, who have frequently outperformed their competitors, winning a combined 15 girls state indoor or outdoor championship races since 2017, according to the lawsuit.
The American Civil Liberties Union’s lawyers for the transgender athletes have argued both are undergoing hormone treatments that have put them on an equal footing with the girls they are competing against.
One of the plaintiffs, Chelsea Mitchell, won two state indoor title races over Miller this year.
The plaintiffs sought to block the participation of Miller and Yearwood, both seniors, from spring track meets, which were later canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They were also seeking to erase all records set by the transgender athletes.
Connecticut is one of 18 states, along with Washington, D.C., that allow transgender high school athletes to compete without restrictions, according to Transathlete.com.
Several other states have polices barring the participation of transgender athletes, and Idaho recently became the first to pass a law banning transgender women from competing in women’s sports.
The ACLU and Legal Voice filed a federal lawsuit contending that law violates the U.S. Constitution because it is discriminatory and an invasion of privacy.