U.S. Education Department Says Connecticut Must Ban Transgender Athletes or Risk Losing Federal Funding

In a 45-page letter, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) threatened to cut off federal funding to Connecticut if the state continues to allow transgender high school athletes to compete against cisgender athletes.

In the May 15 letter, acquired by the Associated Press, the Office for Civil Rights in the DOE says that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference's (CIAC) trans-inclusive policies violate Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments Act which prohibits discrimination against students on the basis of sex.

"[The CIAC has] denied female student-athletes athletic benefits and opportunities, including advancing to the finals in events, higher level competitions, awards, medals, recognition, and the possibility of greater visibility to colleges and other benefits," the letter states.

The DOE's letter comes as District Judge Robert Chatigny is hearing a case involving three cisgender female athletes: Selina Soule, Chelsea Mitchell, and Alanna Smith. The athletes sued the CIAC after two Black transgender athletes, Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller, beat them in races.

The cisgender athletes say trans competitors have an unfair advantage in sports, preventing cisgender athletes from advancing to competitions where they could be considered by college scouts.

The cisgender athletes in the case are being represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a legal group that largely opposes LGBTQ rights. The transgender athletes are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), an organization that often advocates for LGBTQ-inclusive policies.

 U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies during a hearing before House Education and Labor Committee December 12, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty

Connecticut is one of 18 states that allows trans athletes to compete without restrictions alongside other members of their shared gender identity. As such, the CIAC says its trans-inclusive policies are merely following the state's anti-discrimination laws.

"Connecticut law is clear and students who identify as female are to be recognized as female for all purposes—including high school sports," the CIAC said in a statement.

"To do otherwise would not only be discriminatory but would deprive high school students of the meaningful opportunity to participate in educational activities, including inter-scholastic sports, based on sex-stereotyping and prejudice sought to be prevented by Title IX and Connecticut state law," the statement continued.

According to a DOE spokesperson, the recipient local educational agency (LEA) together with CIAC are the subjects of the DOE's investigation, not the state of Connecticut per se.

"The specific LEAs investigated by the OCR (Office for Civil Rights) could jeopardize their funding if they do not come into compliance. No further act of Congress is required. Rather, the Department could take action after either bringing the matter before an ALJ (Administrative Law Judge) for a hearing or referring the matter to the Department of Justice for a district court filing," the spokesperson told Newsweek.

Ultimately, the decision to change federal funding to Connecticut rests in the hands of Congress, but the letter continues the DEO's attack on trans student rights.

On February 23, 2017, the DOE rolled back an Obama Administration guideline allowing trans students to use school bathrooms matching their gender identities. Though the DOE later rescinded this rule, it also refused to hear any cases on the issue, largely leaving the issue up to states and local school boards.

Update (6/4/2020, 3:52 p.m.): This article has been updated to include a statement from the Department of Education.