Transgender athletes are to have an ally in the White House next week, as they seek to participate as their identified gender in high school and college sports — although state legislatures, the US Congress and the courts are all expected to have their say this year, too.
Attorneys on both sides say they expect US president-elect Joe Biden’s Department of Education to switch sides in two key legal battles — one in Connecticut, the other in Idaho — that could go a long way in determining whether transgender athletes are treated by the sex on their birth certificates or by how they identify.
Last year, bills to restrict transgender athletes’ participation to their gender assigned at birth were brought up in 17 US states, although only one, Idaho’s, became law.
It might ultimately fall to Congress to clarify once and for all whether Title IX — the civil rights law that guarantees equal opportunities for women and girls in education — protects or bars the participation of transgender females in women’s sports, said Elizabeth Sharrow, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts.
“I think if they do that, lawmakers at the state level can propose laws, but it doesn’t mean those proposals are going to be taken seriously in the legislative bodies they serve in or that if the state passes those laws anyway that they would necessarily be considered legitimate,” she said. “The courts will sort that out.”
During his campaign, Biden committed to restoring transgender students’ access to sports, bathrooms and locker rooms in accordance with their gender identity.
“States that like Idaho attempt to bar trans girls from girls sports, regardless of age of transition, medical intervention or anything else, with a new federal administration, will now be risking lawsuits by the federal government, Justice Department intervention and the loss of federal funding,” said Chase Strangio, American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) deputy director for transgender justice.
In Idaho, a law signed in March became the nation’s first to prohibit transgender students who identify as female from playing on female teams sponsored by public schools, colleges and universities.
The law was supported by US President Donald Trump’s administration, but blocked from implementation by a federal judge while a legal challenge by ACLU proceeds.
“Allowing males to enter our sports isn’t fair,” Madison Kenyon, a cross-country runner at Idaho State University, said in a statement on Friday. “It changes everything because it eliminates the connection between an athlete’s effort and her success. Idaho’s law helps make sure that when women like me work hard, that hard work pays off, and we have a shot at winning.”
In Connecticut, the Trump administration intervened in support of a lawsuit filed by several non-transgender girls in Connecticut who were seeking to block a state policy that allows transgender athletes to compete in line with their identity.
The plaintiffs argued that transgender female runners had an unfair physical advantage.
The two transgender runners at the center of that case said in court filings that being able to run against girls was central to their well-being.
“Running has been so important for my identity, my growth as a person, and my ability to survive in a world that discriminates against me,” Andraya Yearwood wrote to the court. “I am thankful that I live in Connecticut where I can be treated as a girl in all aspects of life and not face discrimination at school.”
Neither of the two closely watched cases is expected to be decided for months.
A federal judge has scheduled a hearing for Feb. 26 on a request to dismiss the Connecticut lawsuit.
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