During Crisis, Trump DOJ Targets Trans Student-Athletes

Following President Donald Trump's model of governing by "hunch," Attorney General William Barr submitted a deeply opinionated statement of interest arguing that transgender student-athletes should not have the right to play sports.
US DOJ

While the coronavirus crisis overwhelms hospitals and states beg the federal government for emergency assistance, the Trump administration is allocating time and resources toward attacking transgender student-athletes.

The Justice Department (DOJ) is now explicitly opposing a policy in Connecticut that allows student-athletes to compete in accordance with their gender identity, marking the latest chapter in an ongoing battle over whether trans youth should have the right to play sports in the state.

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) has maintained that its policy is simply a reflection of state law protecting transgender student-athletes and that it is also aligned with Title IX, a 1972 federal civil rights law intended to protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of sex in education institutions that receive federal funding — a category that includes virtually every school in the nation.

But the administration, which last year tasked the Office of Civil Rights with the responsibility of investigating the policy, is now taking advantage of the public’s focus on the coronavirus crisis to rail against the CIAC by pushing far-right talking points about gender when nobody is watching.

The DOJ statement was filed in connection with a lawsuit challenging the CIAC policy.

In a March 24 statement of interest signed by Attorney General William Barr, the administration stated that the CIAC’s interpretation of Title IX “may not account for the real physiological differences between men and women.”

“Instead, schools must have certain biological males — namely, those who publicly identify as female — compete against biological females,” the statement, clearly misgendering trans girls, noted. “In so doing, CIAC deprives those women of the single-sex athletic competitions that are one of the marquee accomplishments of Title IX.”

In response to the CIAC’s assertion that the 1972 federal law protects the student-athletes, the Justice Department wrote, “They are incorrect.”

“Title IX and its implementing regulations prohibit discrimination solely ‘on the basis of sex,’ not on the basis of transgender status, and therefore neither require nor authorize CIAC’s transgender policy.

Barr’s rambling statement of interest later veered off into bizarre tangents comparing definitions of sex in dictionaries from 1972, the year Title IX was implemented, in an effort to disprove the application of that law in the context of the rights of transgender student-athletes.

The Trump administration’s position on this issue is diametrically opposed to the conclusions of the Obama administration Justice Department in the former president’s final years.

The legal battle in Connecticut has centered on a pair of student-athletes, Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller, whose success in track has prompted conservatives to use them as props in their arguments — despite the fact that the girls have also lost races to cisgender girls.

Three Connecticut-based cisgender student-athletes, supported by the anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom, filed a lawsuit in US District Court in Connecticut in February in which they alleged that the cisgender student-athlete’s “dreams and goals” were somehow squashed because they were competing with trans athletes. The ADF has been deeply involved in the state, where the legal group similarly supported three different student-athletes in a Title IX sex discrimination complaint last June, at which point they begged the Office of Civil Rights to probe the situation and stop trans student-athletes from participating in girls’ athletics. The girls in both cases competed against Yearwood and Miller, who have been backed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Connecticut high school track stars Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood at an Athlete Ally event last year where they were honored.Athlete Ally

Chase Strangio, the deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU’s LGBT and HIV Project, reacted to the statement of interest shortly after it was made public.

“Wow,” he wrote in a Twitter post. “The Trump administration just filed a statement of interest in CT to argue that girls who are trans are ‘biological males’ and it violates Title IX to protect trans people. The audacity. This is so cruel.”

GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) also issued a statement in response to the news, writing, “Participation in sports is a critical component of healthy physical and social development, and for transgender students it can be life-saving… Title IX is designed to ensure equal opportunities for girls — meaning all girls. The Department of Justice’s position distorts the text and the history of federal law.”

Miller and Yearwood have not been afraid to speak up and tell their own stories of perseverance in the face of adversity. At an Athlete Ally awards event last year during which the pair were honored, Miller — accompanied by Strangio — told Gay City News that she plans to advocate for trans rights in sports as she prepares to enter college.

“I want everyone to be comfortable being themselves,” Miller told Gay City News. “Don’t be scared to participate in sports, because we have rights, too.”

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