HARTFORD, Conn. - The families of three female high school runners have taken another step toward trying to prevent transgender athletes from participating in girls sports in Connecticut. Months after filing a federal Title IX discrimination complaint, the families filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday.

The lawsuit seeks to reverse a Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference rule that allows high school athletes to compete in sports corresponding with their gender identity. If successful, the lawsuit would require athletes to compete based on their birth sex and could result in changes to state record books.

The Title IX complaint filed last year is still pending, which led to the filing of this lawsuit. In addition to asking for the policy to be overturned, there is a motion to put the policy on hold for the spring high school sports season.

Selina Soule, of Glastonbury High, Alanna Smith, of Danbury High, and Chelsea Mitchell, of Canton High gathered at the state Capitol Wednesday along with members of the conservative Christian nonprofit organization Alliance Defending Freedom, arguing that they have been deprived of track titles, scholarship opportunities and positive public recognition.

"No girl should have to settle into her starting blocks knowing that you don't have a fair shot at winning," said Mitchell, who was named the 2018-19 All-Courant female athlete of the year for her success in track and soccer. "That's the situation I've faced over and over in my high school career."

The lawsuit alleges that transgender girls are displacing girls who are cisgender (someone who identifies with their birth sex) as the runners compete in the postseason, denying the cisgender girls spots in the State Open and New England championships. Not competing at those events could prevent the cisgender girls from showcasing their talent in front of college coaches or competing against higher level competition. The lawsuit calls for changing the high school record books to remove transgender athletes from girls competitions, effectively changing the results and winners of some competitions.

The lawsuit is filed against the Connecticut Association of Schools, which oversees the state's governing board of high school athletics, the CIAC. It is also filed against the school districts of Glastonbury, Danbury, Canton, Bloomfield and Cromwell; the latter two each have transgender runners who have seen significant success in recent years.

Bloomfield's Terry Miller, now a senior, holds the outdoor track and field State Open records in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and won two New England track titles in 2018. In 2019 she won the 200-meter dash at the New England event and helped her school to a 4x400 relay win. As a freshman, Yearwood won Class M titles in 2017 in the 100-meter and 200-meter dash during the outdoor track and field season. In 2018, she finished second to Miller at the State Open in the 100-meter dash. During the indoor season in 2019, Yearwood finished second to Miller in the 55-meter dash.

Glenn Lungarini, the executive director of the CIAC, said the organization is aware of the lawsuit and that it believes the current policy is appropriate under both Connecticut law and Title IX.

"The CIAC is committed to equity and providing opportunities to student athletes in Connecticut," Lungarini said. "We are now aware that there is an intention to challenge the policy regarding transgender participation. CIAC takes these matters seriously. We will cooperate fully in any legal matter."

Policies on transgender athletes vary by state, with New England states, New York, Pennsylvania and several others having similar policies to Connecticut. There are 12 states identified as having "harmful, exclusive or invasive" policies according to GLSEN, an LGBTQ advocacy group that focuses on equal rights in schools. Those states have policies that outright deny transgender athletes from competing against the gender they identify with, don't provide equal opportunity or do not protect trans athletes under HIPPA or FERPA.

The CIAC policy differs from rules set up by USA Track and Field, which requires transgender athletes to undergo hormone therapy. The USA Track and Field rules, which mirror the International Olympic Committee regulations, are used at colleges in the U.S.

The lawsuit also argues there are biological differences between cisgender boys and girls, which could give transgender athletes an advantage. It uses the differences in boys' and girls' race times as evidence.

Chase Strangio, the deputy director for Trans Justice with the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, "is a dangerous distortion of both law and science in the service of excluding trans youth from public life."

"The purpose of high school athletics is to support inclusion, build social connection and teamwork, and help all students thrive and grow," Stangio said. "Efforts to undermine Title IX by claiming it doesn't apply to a subset of girls will ultimately hurt all students and compromise the work of ending the long legacy of sex discrimination in sports."

Stangio added that the lawsuit "deliberately misgenders transgender youth" and is "a threat to the privacy and equality of all students."

The policy, however, has caused stress for Mitchell, who has been "physically sick" before races knowing she may not win, the lawsuit states. Soule has "suffered depression" after not being in the state finals. The lawsuit states that if Miller and Yearwood were disallowed, Soule would have been able to compete in the finals.

"That (policy) changed everything," Soule said. "Now when we line up in front of our blocks and the starter calls for us to get into position, we all know how the race will go. We can't win. We've lived it, we've watched it happen."

Alliance Defending Freedom lawyer Christiana Holcomb said the complaint and lawsuit are strictly based on competition.

"Ask any one of these female plaintiffs up here on this stage; it's absolutely not about the lifestyle," said Holcomb. "What it is about is fundamental fairness is women's athletics. It's ensuring that the promise of Title IX is carried through, and that girls are able to compete and experience the thrill of victory that Title IX was designed to provide them when passed nearly 50 years ago."

Visit The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) at www.courant.com

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