The State of Connecticut has a policy that allows transgender females to participate in female sports in the educational system. But a recent ruling from the US Department of Education has challenged the validity of this policy as it currently stands. As the Guardian reports, the Education department's Civil Rights Division has issued a letter ruling that Connecticut's policy violates Title IX and may put their federal funding in jeopardy.
The ruling comes in response to an ongoing federal lawsuit filed earlier this year by three cisgender (biological) female track athletes who claim that two transgender female athletes competing with them have an unfair physical advantage due to their biology, thereby depriving the cisgender athletes of opportunities for awards and advancement in their category. The ruling also suggests that the state will be disqualified from federal educational funding unless they reverse the policy.
The position taken by the Department of Education could have far-reaching implications as to how Title IX is to be interpreted, and it may also reframe how transgender athletes are allowed to compete. Let's look at some of the possible legal and personal ramifications of this development.
The Legal Ramifications
The Education Department's decision sets the stage for a potentially prolonged battle in the courts, one that could have long-term effects on whom Title IX protects, and whom it does not. As a reminder, Title IX states:
"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
The law was written to protect people from instances of discrimination on the basis of sex (later expanded to include sexual misconduct) in the educational systems. But this is perhaps the first time, at least to such a pronounced extent, that the rights of two sexual identities have been potentially pitted against one another under the auspices of Title IX. Does the inclusion of transgenders in an athletic program actually “deny the benefits” of education to their cisgender counterparts? Or would defining sports categories purely by biology deny these benefits to transgender people? Is there a way to afford the same opportunities to both without infringing on the rights of either?
The answers to these questions will likely be decided in the courts over the next few years—and the effects could stretch well past Connecticut. (At least 17 other states have similar laws allowing people to participate in sports according to how they identify gender-wise, rather than by birth.)
If the US Department of Education's opinion is upheld, what effects could it have on a more personal level—especially if you happen to identify as a transgender male or female? Potentially, it could roll back some of the rights transgender people now enjoy, from participation in athletics to choosing the bathroom that best reflects your identity. Without intervention, Title IX—a law designed to protect against sexual discrimination—could actually be reinterpreted as a barrier to entry.
The upshot: If you feel you have been denied your rights under Title IX, it's never been more critical to hire an experienced attorney to advise you and advocate on your behalf. Our firm has an extensive history of passionately protecting students' rights under Title IX. Call our offices at 888-535-3686 for a consultation.