In a win for trans student athletes, an appeals court has upheld Connecticut’s high school athlete policy, which allows trans kids to compete in sports on the basis of their gender identity, as opposed to the sex they were assigned at birth.
On Friday, according to the Associated Press, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s decision to throw out a lawsuit brought by four cisgender track athletes. The lawsuit, initially filed in 2020, claimed that because the cis girls competed against two trans athletes, they were denied equal opportunities to win races—employing the language of Title IX to argue against including trans athletes in sports.
In what CNN called a “scathing 29-page ruling,” the panel said the cis athletes had no standing to sue. They had claimed that competing alongside trans girls had deprived them of wins, state titles, athletic scholarship opportunities, and public recognition, all of which the judges found to be speculative. The plaintiffs had also sought to remove all records of the trans girls’ wins in a twisted form of restorative justice.
“All four Plaintiffs regularly competed at state track championships as high school athletes, where Plaintiffs had the opportunity to compete for state titles in different events,” the ruling stated. “And, on numerous occasions, Plaintiffs were indeed ‘champions,’ finishing first in various events, even sometimes when competing against [transgender athletes].”
“Plaintiffs simply have not been deprived of a ‘chance to be champions,’” the judges concluded.
The American Civil Liberties Union represented the two trans runners named as defendants: Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood.
“Today’s ruling is a critical victory for fairness, equality, and inclusion,” Joshua Block, a lawyer for the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project, said in a statement to the AP. “This critical victory strikes at the heart of political attacks against transgender youth while helping ensure every young person has the right to play.”
Though the plaintiffs have not yet indicated whether they intend to appeal the decision, the ruling comes as an important win for trans rights at a time when Republican activists and politicians are increasingly demonizing members of the LGBTQ+ community. Several had cited this Connecticut case in their calls for morality and feigned passion for equal rights for cis women.
“Our clients, like all female athletes across the country, deserve fair competition,” Christiana Kiefer, a lawyer with the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom who represented the cis athletes, said in a statement. “And that means fair and equal quality of competition, and that just does not happen when you’re forced to compete against biological males in their sports.”
At least in Connecticut, however, trans girls will continue to have the opportunity to compete (despite there being very few, if any, trans girls currently competing in high school sports in the state, according to the ACLU), and the federal affirmation that they are free to identify and play sports as they’d like. Republicans aren’t going to let this fight go anytime soon, but this sorely needed win will hopefully be cited in future legislation and legal battles.