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Appeals court rules against female athletes opposed to biological males competing in girls' sports

High-school athlete Selina Soule
High school athlete Selina Soule, who competes within the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference. |

A federal appeals court has rejected a lawsuit filed by four former female high school student-athletes seeking to stop a Connecticut athletics association policy that allows biological males who identify as females to compete in girls’ sports competitions. 

A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled Friday that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and the Connecticut Association of Schools may have a policy allowing boys who identify as female to participate in girls’ sports.

Circuit Judge Denny Chin, appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama, authored the panel opinion, stating “we are unpersuaded” that the athletes “have established the injury in fact and redressability for standing.”

Chin affirmed that the lawsuit was dismissed based on mootness since the four athletes have graduated from high school and are no longer directly impacted by the policy. 

The panel also rejected claims that the policy violated federal Title IX civil rights law protecting against discrimination based on sex, saying that “Courts of Appeals considering whether Title IX prohibits schools from treating transgender students consistent with their gender identity have held that the statute does not.”

“Some Courts of Appeals have taken it further and held that treating transgender students consistent with their sex assigned at birth … violates Title IX,” wrote Chin.

“Although these cases from our sister circuits do not address the exact issue of participation of transgender athletes on gender-specific sports teams, such authority nonetheless establishes that discrimination based on transgender status is generally prohibited under federal law.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal nonprofit helping represent the four athletes, denounced the panel ruling and is considering further options.

“Our clients — like all female athletes — deserve access to fair competition. Thankfully, a growing number of states are stepping up to protect women’s athletics,” stated ADF Senior Counsel Christiana Kiefer.

“Every woman deserves the respect and dignity that comes with having an equal opportunity to excel and win in athletics, and ADF remains committed to protecting the future of women’s sports.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, which defended the policy on behalf of two trans-identified students, released a statement celebrating the panel ruling.

“Trans student athletes belong on our sports teams and in our schools, and all trans youth should be celebrated and protected for who they are,” said Elana Bildner, ACLU Foundation of Connecticut senior staff attorney.

“Today, the courts have once again dismissed this lawsuit seeking to attack trans student athletes. The record shows that our clients played by the rules, and the court agreed.”

In February 2020, Connecticut high school track runners Selina Soule, Chelsea Mitchell, Alanna Smith and Ashley Nicoletti sued CIAC and its member schools over a policy first enacted in 2013 that allows student-athletes to compete based on their gender identity rather than biological sex.

A specific issue in the case was a race in which the plaintiffs lost to two biological male runners who identified as female. The losses made it so the female runners were denied the ability to compete in a regional track championship attended by college scouts looking for athletes to recruit. 

In April 2021, U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny dismissed the lawsuit, arguing in part that the suit was “not justiciable at this time” and that “Title IX requires schools to treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.”

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