A federal judge on Sunday dismissed a lawsuit aimed at preventing transgender athletes from competing in girls high school sports, but the case may be far from resolved.
The lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the case — four cisgender track athletes from around the state, including two who have since graduated from high school — said Monday her clients will file an appeal over the next 30 days. Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said U.S. District Court Judge Robert Chatigny “didn’t even address the merits of the case.”
Chatigny issued a 27-page ruling stating the lawsuit was essentially moot because transgender track athletes Andraya Yearwood of Cromwell and Terry Miller of Bloomfield have graduated from high school. The ruling also pointed out that plaintiffs could not identify any transgender female athletes currently competing.
The suit was first filed in February 2020 by Selina Soule of Glastonbury, Alanna Smith of Danbury and Chelsea Mitchell of Canton. Ashley Nicoletti of Immaculate High later joined the lawsuit.
Mitchell and Soule have since graduated.
“I conclude that the request to enjoin enforcement of the CIAC policy has become moot due to the graduation of Yearwood and Miller, whose participation in girls’ track provided the impetus for this action,” Chatigny wrote in his ruling. “There is no indication that Smith and Nicoletti will encounter competition by a transgender student in a CIAC-sponsored event next season. … If it turns out that a transgender student does register to compete in girls’ track next season, Smith and Nicoletti will be able to file a new action under Title IX along with a motion for a preliminary injunction.”
Holcomb argues Chatigny did not address the crux of the plaintiffs’ case.
“The girls’ damages have already taken place,” Holcomb said. “They’ve already lost out on state championship titles … all of these accolades and recognition for their hard work and their achievement. Those have been denied these young women. For the court to simply ignore all of the harms they have experienced in their own female sporting competition is really disheartening.”
She also said, “We look forward to explaining to the court that Title IX is really clear. It was intended to provide equal athletic opportunities to female athletes.”
Lawmakers in more than 20 states have proposed bills to ban transgender athletes from competing in girls’ high school sports. The Associated Press reported last month that it reached out to state legislators and conservative groups supporting the bills, but found only a few examples cited in which a transgender athlete competing was an issue. Some lawmakers across the country cited Miller and Yearwood.
Connecticut allows high school athletes to compete in sports based on their gender identity, using the state’s anti-discrimination law as a guideline. The defendants in the federal cases argued that Title IX — the federal law providing equal opportunity in sports — does not define “sex-separated teams in a manner that bars girls who are transgender from participating with other girls.”
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference praised the decision to dismiss the case.
In a statement released Monday afternoon, the high school sports governing organization said it was pleased that the court threw out a lawsuit “challenging the CIAC’s inclusive athletic participation policy.”
“The district court’s decision recognized that the CIAC policy reflects the federal guidance in place at the time it was adopted, and that there is no basis for a claim for damages against public schools who participate in CIAC sponsored athletics,” the CIAC said in its statement.
“The CIAC has maintained throughout this lawsuit that its inclusive participation policy aligns with both federal and state law, and it was prepared to defend this lawsuit on the merits had there been any basis for it to continue. The CIAC continues to welcome and support inclusive education-based athletic participation, including by transgender students, in accordance with its mission to promote meaningful participation in high school sports activities for all student-athletes.”
With Connecticut under a national spotlight, former President Donald Trump’s Department of Education threatened to withhold federal funding from districts that allowed transgender athletes to compete on girls’ teams in a letter sent in September. But President Joe Biden issued an executive order in February barring discrimination based on gender identity, and the Department of Education ended its support for the lawsuit.
Elana Bildner, staff attorney for the ACLU of Connecticut, said in a statement: “Transgender youth, just like all other youth, belong in our schools and on our sports teams. Trans students’ humanity, dignity, and ability to be full members of their school communities should never be up for debate. Connecticut’s laws preventing discrimination against transgender people and its policies preventing discrimination against trans youth in school and sports are consistent with federal law.”