Congress enacted Title IX in 1972 partly to make schools offer girls the same chance to take part in sports that boys had. At first people resisted, but as the benefits to girls became clear, the public accepted the new law. Lately a new kind of resistance has sprung up, as more and more transgender athletes have been allowed to compete for spots on girls’ teams. Last month a case in Connecticut’s federal court showed the pressures at work.
Soule v. Connecticut Assn. of Schools pit four runners against the authorities that organize high school track and field events in the state. In 2019 Connecticut was one of seventeen states to allow transgender athletes to compete in girls’ races. That year, four runners, the plaintiffs in the suit, would have won or finished high in elite high school races but every time finished behind two transgender runners.
The four turned to the federal government. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights investigates claims of discrimination on the basis of sex in school. The four runners complained to it that Connecticut’s authorities violated Title IX by allowing transgender runners into girls’ races. OCR did not act right away, and the 2020 Spring track season looked to begin. The four went to the federal court for an injunction to stop the transgender athletes from running against them in the upcoming season.
The pandemic ended both the season and the case. By April 2021 the two transgender athletes had graduated. The judge thus found it fairly straightforward to hold that the controversy was no longer ‘live’. As he no longer had anything to enjoin, he turned down the runners’ request.
He also turned down their request for damages. Connecticut’s authorities could show they had no idea they might be breaking the law. In organizing races they had followed rules laid down by the Obama administration. Those rules notified American schools that Title IX required them to allow athletes to compete on the teams with which they identified. That interpretation meant, of course, that transgender runners could choose to run in girls’ races. It did not help the plaintiffs’ case that federal courts across the country had consistently sided with this view of the law.
For now, no transgender athlete takes part in high school track and field in Connecticut. If one does, and wins a race, the second-place finisher will face an even stiffer headwind in court. Candidate Biden criticized President Trump’s administration for writing rules on Title IX that he said favored sexual harassers over their victims. President Biden has already announced his intention to look at them again. It seems likely his administration will see the issue of gender identity just as broadly.