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Federal finding on transgender athletes applauded

WASHINGTON (BP) — Southern Baptist ethics specialists have praised a Trump administration finding that Connecticut’s athletic association and multiple school districts violated federal law by permitting biological males to compete against females in athletic events.

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) informed the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) and the school districts of its decision that they had disobeyed Title IX, the 1972 law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs, including athletics. By allowing males who identified as females to complete in girls track meets, the CIAC and the schools “denied female student-athletes athletic benefits and opportunities,” according to a May 15 letter from the OCR.

The letter, which was made public Thursday (May 28), gave the CIAC and the schools until June 4 to correct their noncompliance. It threatened the withholding of federal funds or referral to the Department of Justice for legal action if the CIAC and the schools do not resolve the concerns.

Josh Wester of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) described the OCR finding as “the right move.”

“These ‘transgender participation’ policies clearly violate Title IX and are discriminatory toward biological females because, for example, they unfairly disadvantage female athletes and potentially deny them athletic distinctions and college scholarships,” said Wester, the ERLC’s chair of research in Christian ethics, in written comments. “There is no circumstance in which young women should be forced to compete against biological males in high school athletics.

“These young women deserve the same opportunities afforded to male athletes in Connecticut, to compete in fair and equal contests without disadvantages created by novel social policy.”

Andrew Walker, associate professor of Christian ethics and apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, posted on Twitter: “This is big news and good news: Department of Education sides with fairness, equality, and justice in saying that biological males competing against females violates Title IX.”

The CIAC revised its policy on transgender athletes after the state legislature added in 2012 the category of “gender identity or expression” to its anti-discrimination laws.

The next year, the CIAC changed its policy to permit each school to determine a student-athlete’s gender identity is “bona fide and not for the purpose of gaining an unfair advantage in competitive athletics.” This policy, according to the OCR, “eliminated any requirement that transgender student-athletes provide any medical information or documentation to the CIAC or its member schools.”

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) asked the OCR in 2019 on behalf of three female track athletes — Selina Soule, Alanna Smith and Chelsea Mitchell — and their mothers to investigate CIAC’s policy. ADF also represented them in a federal lawsuit filed in February of this year.

Under the CIAC policy, two male athletes who identify as females won 15 girls state indoor and outdoor track championships from 2017 to 2019 and took away more than 85 opportunities to advance in competitions from females, according to ADF.

Mitchell, one of the athletes represented by ADF, said in a written statement, “It is liberating to know that my voice, my story, my loss, has been heard; that those championships I lost mean something.”

Mitchell won two indoor state titles this year over one of the male athletes, according to the Hartford (Conn.) Courant.

The CIAC said in a written statement its policy aligns with state law and federal guidance prior to the Trump administration. “Connecticut law is clear and students who identify as female are to be recognized as female for all purposes — including high school sports,” the statement said.

Chase Strangio, who leads the ACLU’s transgender justice initiatives, said, according to the Courant, that the OCR finding is “yet another attack from the Trump administration on transgender students. Trans students belong in our schools, including on sports teams, and we aren’t backing down from this fight.”

The OCR finding could have a far-reaching effect. In addition to Connecticut, 17 other states and the District of Columbia permit students who identify as transgender to compete in high school sports without limitations, according to the Courant.

Messengers to the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution regarding transgender identity that “affirm[ed] God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.” The resolution “regard[ed] our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of Almighty God and therefore condemn[ed] acts of abuse or bullying committed against them.”

The resolution also said, “We invite all transgender persons to trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the Gospel.”

A 2016 resolution on sexuality reaffirmed Southern Baptists’ love for those who identify as transgender.