Trump Vows to Pull Funding From Schools Backing Trans Athletes

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is determined to ban transgender student-athletes from participating in sports.
Reuters/ Leah Millis

The Trump administration’s Department of Education continued its targeted, discriminatory assault on transgender student-athletes on May 15 when the agency’s Office for Civil Rights declared that a Connecticut policy allowing trans athletes to participate in sports in accordance with their gender identity violates Title IX.

In a 45-page letter first reported by the Associated Press, the administration threatened to pull federal funding for schools and organizations that disobey the declaration. The Office for Civil Rights asserted that the Connecticut policy 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.”

The Office of Civil Rights vowed to “either initiate administrative proceedings to suspend, terminate, or refuse to grant or continue and defer financial assistance” to the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), which administers the policy, and the schools allowing trans student-athletes to play sports.

The decision represents one of the administration’s most threatening attacks on transgender student-athletes in yet another example of how the Department of Education, led by right-wing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is weaponizing Title IX — the landmark 1972 law that bans sex discrimination in federally-funded academic and athletic programs — to reject the rights of girls and women to participate in sports.

The policy in Connecticut paved the way for two transgender athletes, Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood, to compete against other girls in track and field. Although the pair of girls won and lost competitions — therefore debunking theories that insisted trans girls have an unfair advantage over cisgender girls — at least six of those girls’ opponents have taken aim at the policy with lawsuits. The anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has taken the lead on legal efforts to overturn the policy.

Connecticut high school track stars Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood accept awards from Athlete Ally last November.Athlete Ally

Echoing the kinds of talking points made by white segregationists who resisted integration, three of those girls’ opponents in February filed a lawsuit in US District Court in Connecticut in which they argued that their “dreams and goals” were dashed because they were forced to play against transgender athletes. Last June, three other competitors of Yearwood and Miller filed a Title IX sex discrimination complaint in which they asked the federal government’s Office of Civil Rights to look into their case. 

The administration welcomed that complaint, which became the basis for the administration’s latest declaration against the Connecticut policy. Trump’s team has invested heavily in efforts to chip away at the policy and the rights of trans students in an apparent bid to set a precedent for the rest of the country, raising fears that the move could have far-reaching implications on a nationwide scale. 

The CIAC is standing firm, saying its policy remains aligned with state law banning schools from discriminating against trangender students. The CIAC also cited federal courts and governments agencies that have established that the term “sex” under Title IX is ambiguous.

“Connecticut law is clear and students who identify as female are to be recognized as female for all purposes — including high school sports,” the CIAC said in a defiant written statement on May 28. “To do otherwise would not only be discriminatory but would deprive high school students of the meaningful opportunity to participate in educational activities, including inter-scholastic sports, based on sex-stereotyping and prejudice sought to be prevented by Title IX and Connecticut state law.”

The CIAC cited pending litigation on the issue, saying lawsuits are “in a very early stage,” and later added, “The CIAC looks forward to obtaining a ruling about whether Title IX prohibits states from permitting transgender females from participation in girls high school track and field events after the facts and legal considerations have been fully presented and reviewed.”

The ADF has sought to bring bans on transgender student-athletes to other parts of the country, as well. The anti-LGBTQ legal group lobbied lawmakers in Idaho before that state passed legislation that not only banned transgender girls from participating in sports but also imposed invasive physical testing requirements if a student’s gender is disputed.

In a series of other alarming but related moves, the administration also recently gutted key protections embedded in Title IX that protected individuals, including transgender student-athletes, who face disproportionately high rates of assault. The Department of Education’s years-long agenda dates back to 2017 when DeVos gutted the Office for Civil Rights’ probes of discrimination cases targeting LGBTQ students, followed by its 2018 decision to stop investigating complaints by trans students who were not able to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.

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