Connecticut Republicans plan to honor three high school girls who have filed a lawsuit seeking to block transgender athletes from participating in women’s sports, alleging trans competitors have a “biological advantage” that has skewed the playing field in their favor.
J.R. Romano, chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, said plans to honor the athletes with a fundraising event next month are a response to what the state GOP sees as unfair treatment of the students by the media, the state’s Democratic Party and liberal activists.
“They’re being vilified just for fighting for fairness,” Romano told NBC News. “We’re honoring them for their bravery in standing up despite that vilification.”
On March 25, Connecticut Republicans will present the Courage Award to Selina Soule, a senior at Glastonbury High School; Chelsea Mitchell, a senior at Canton High School; and Alanna Smith, a sophomore at Danbury High School.
In their lawsuit, filed Feb. 12, the three high school runners argue that requiring them to compete with transgender athletes for scholarships and accolades is a violation of gender protections under Title IX. The suit — filed with the help of the Christian nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, which has been designated an anti-LGBTQ “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a designation the group disagrees with — takes issue with the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s rules allowing students to participate in sports based on their gender identity. The conference has said its policy complies with state law.
If a judge sides with the plaintiffs, athletes will be required to compete in sports based on the sex they were assigned at birth, not the gender with which they identify, and state record books for high school sports may also be subject to retroactive changes.
The lawsuit was prompted by the performance of two transgender Connecticut high school sprinters, Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood, who have repeatedly outperformed their cisgender female competitors. The two seniors, who have asked to be named as defendants in the lawsuit, have won a combined 15 state championship races since 2017, according to the suit.
Eliza Byard, executive director of the LGBTQ youth advocacy group GLSEN, said the Connecticut Republicans’ decision to honor the plaintiffs is not surprising considering the Department of Education’s opposition to transgender students’ rights under Secretary Betsy DeVos, a Republican, and the Republican Party’s current focus on transgender participation in women’s athletics.
“We are living in a moment when this has been identified as a topic that can generate controversy,” Byard said. “The sad thing is that students who simply deserve to go to school in peace and have equal opportunity are being targeted in a way that is extremely harmful.”
Romano, on the other hand, applauded the plaintiffs’ “bravery” for fighting to make their voices heard in what he describes as a media and political environment overly attuned to “political correctness.” He also rejected the labeling of the Alliance Defending Freedom as a “hate group.”
He said the issue of transgender athletes’ participation in sports is “complicated and deserves a complicated discussion,” and added that he believes the conversation thus far has been unfair to cisgender female athletes who “shouldn’t have to compete against a biological male.”
“This is about the future of women’s sports,” he said. “That’s what these girls are fighting for.”
While transgender women have won a number of athletic championships and titles recently, Byard says there is no real evidence that trans athletes are dominating overall in women’s athletics.
But for Byard, the issue of transgender participation in high school sports is not about fairness on the playing field; it’s about giving all students the opportunity to feel like they belong.
“LGBTQ youth face so many barriers to feeling like they belong in the school community,” she said. “Those youth who are able to participate as a member of a team are much more likely to feel like they belong and do better in so many different ways, and this is one of the ways that we can help vulnerable and isolated students connect at school and succeed.”