Connecticut transgender athletics policy heads to federal appeals court

Connecticut’s policy of letting transgender athletes compete under their chosen gender went before a federal appeals court on Thursday. The closely watched case could have ripple effects across the country.
Four former high school athletes filed the lawsuit along with Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian group. ADF argues the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference policy violates Title IX, a federal law guaranteeing women equal access to sports.
One of the plaintiffs is Alanna Smith, a former Danbury High School track star who now runs for the University of Tennessee.
"It's unfair, and it doesn't allow for a level playing field,” she said. "I walked away with a bronze medal instead of a silver medal, because the first place medal went to a biological male.”
A lower court dismissed the case last year because Smith and the other plaintiffs are now in college. On Thursday, both sides argued their cases before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut asked the court to toss the case out.
"The standard is whether someone can actively compete. And the plaintiffs here won many, many championships -- won many races -- against our [transgender] clients,” said ACLU attorney Elana Bildner. "They won a lot of races, so the story the facts tell in this case is that the non-transgender athletes were absolutely very competitive."
Both sides believe Title IX supports their case.
"The whole reason we have women's sports as a separate category is because there are real physical differences between males and females,” said Christiana Kiefer, an attorney with ADF.
During Thursday’s arguments, Chief Appellate Judge Debra Ann Livingston appeared skeptical of the plaintiffs.
Judge Livingston: "At least two of them are now in enrolled in college, or have they all -- in college?”
ADF Attorney Roger Brooks: "Yes they are, your honor."
Livingston: "And all are competing now?"
Brooks: "They all are or have been."
Transgender rights in school have become a flashpoint across America. In Virginia, more than a thousand students walked out of class this week over Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s order forcing trans students to use restrooms, names and pronouns based on their official school records.
"These are real kids who are scared out of their minds,” said Casey Calabia, a transgender student who led one walkout.
On Wednesday, Youngkin held a fundraiser for Bob Stefanowski, the GOP candidate for governor. Stefanowski pledged to repeal CIAC’s transgender policy during an NBC Connecticut/Telemundo debate this week.
"I fundamentally believe it's unsafe and unfair for a biological male to compete against a girl in high school,” he said.
Politics aside, Alanna Smith said she hopes to find a compromise.
"I do believe that there's a spot for everyone in sports, so I'm hoping that we can come to some kind of middle ground and figure out how it can be fair for all athletes,” she said.
There's no word when the federal appeals court will rule. They could dismiss the lawsuit, strike down Connecticut’s transgender policy – or send the case back to a lower court.