The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has found that a Connecticut high school athletics policy that allows transgender students to participate in sports teams that match their gender identity violates federal law and could cost the state federal education funding.

A 45-page letter, dated May 15, explained that the decision was based on the finding that the policy violated Title IX: the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in all programs that receive federal funding.

The office began their investigation after the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian organization, filed a Title IX complaint and a federal lawsuit on behalf of three female track athletes against the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference.

The lawsuit alleged that the policy gave transgender students an unearned advantage in athletic competitions and in attracting scholarships and college recruiters. The ruling agreed, stating that the policy “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.”

In March, Idaho became the first state to bar transgender student-athletes with the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act. The law intensified national debate about transgender athletes, which has now become a key conservative wedge issue and rallying cry for Trump supporters.

As the title suggests, the Idaho bill only prevents students assigned male at birth from participating in women’s sports, based on the idea that transgender girls have specific biological advantages over their cisgender classmates. This logic relies on the dangerous myth that transgender women are really men and therefore will automatically win competitions, despite ample evidence that women can be good at sports, even when competing against men. There is also no evidence that transgender women and girls have any sort of competitive advantage in female sports.

At the time of the Idaho bill’s passage, the state attorney general and other Idaho lawmakers expressed concern about the constitutionality of the law due to Title IX. Although not legally binding, the decision from the Education Department suggests that the law will stand.

According to Sam Brinton, vice president of The Trevor Project’s department of advocacy and government affairs, the use of Title IX to further a policy that excludes transgender women and perpetuates gender stereotypes about women’s inferiority is particularly frustrating.

“Title IX was meant to ensure that gender would never be a barrier to opportunity in our nation’s schools,” Brinton said in a Thursday statement. “This decision by the administration to use it instead to exclude transgender athletes completely warps this landmark civil rights law into a tool of discrimination.”

The Office for Civil Rights ruling said that it will “either initiate administrative proceedings to suspend, terminate or refuse to grant or continue and defer financial assistance” to the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and the school districts that have allowed transgender students to compete.

Sources: The New York Times 5/29/2020; Time 5/28/2020; NBC Connecticut 5/28/2020

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