NWLC Files Amicus Brief Supporting Trans-Inclusive Student Athletic Policy

Victory! On December 16, 2022, the Second Circuit upheld the dismissal of plaintiffs’ challenge to CIAC’s policy allowing transgender students to participate in gender specific sports consistent with their gender identity. The court found that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they failed to prove that cisgender girls were harmed in any way by the participation of transgender athletes.

On October 14, 2021, the National Women’s Law Center, along with our law firm partner Hogan Lovells LLP and 34 additional organizations committed to gender justice, submitted an amicus brief to the Second Circuit in Soule v. CIAC in support of trans-inclusive student athletic policies in schools in Connecticut. The lawsuit was brought by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a far-right conservative Christian group, on behalf of three cisgender female athletes who are challenging a Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) policy that allows K-12 athletes to participate in sports consistent with their gender identity. We filed our amicus brief in support of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of two transgender women athletes to defend the CIAC policy from these harmful attacks. Our brief refutes ADF’s dangerous arguments and explains why the district court’s dismissal of the lawsuit was correct and should be affirmed by the Second Circuit. 

We have explained time and time again: inclusive policies like CIAC’s are vital for ensuring that all women and girls can access the well-documented benefits of playing sports free from gender discrimination, as required by Title IX. The benefits of athletic participation for women and girls are wide-ranging and include enhanced physical, emotional, and psychological well-being, improved educational prospects, and the opportunity to be part of a supportive community. To have truly equitable schools, transgender women and girls, who are already vulnerable to discrimination in education, must have the same opportunities to reap the benefits of sports as other students. 

Yet, those seeking to undermine the rights of transgender athletes continue to rely on inaccurate and dangerous stereotypes, while dishonestly invoking “women’s rights” to justify discrimination. They ignore the reality recognized by women’s rights organizations, including organizations that advocate for the rights of women and girls in sports, that gender equity in school requires equal access to participation in athletics for all women and girls, including those who are transgender. Our amicus brief also explains how, contrary to ADF’s argument that the CIAC policy violates Title IX, the opposite is true. It is exclusion, not inclusion, of women and girls in school athletics that violates Title IX. The U.S. Supreme Court made clear in Bostock v. Clayton County that discrimination based on being transgender is sex discrimination. Other courts have said the same before and after Bostock. Because the appellants here would require schools to exclude transgender students from athletics, any such policy would necessarily discriminate based on sex in violation of Title IX. 

We also highlight in our brief the serious harms to transgender women and girls—who already face a heightened risk of discrimination and harassment—that flow from exclusion from female athletics. Like all athletes, transgender athletes are not a monolith and have a wide range of strength, size, and athletic ability. The assumption that transgender women and girls will have certain physical attributes or an inherent advantage over other athletes is incorrect and dangerous. Such stereotypes also specifically harm Black and brown girls, who are also targeted because of their race when not conforming to white standards of femininity. 

While gender-based disparities between male and female sports certainly exist, including in access to sponsorships, scholarships, and adequate facilities, these are not because of the inclusion of trans women and girls, contrary to ADF’s argument. In fact, research has shown that trans-inclusive sports policies provide significant health benefits for transgender young people and do not affect overall participation in female sports. Excluding transgender women and girls from student athletic teams does not rectify the range of inequities and exacerbates dangerous myths regarding athleticism and gender. 

At NWLC, we have long advocated for the rights of all women and girls to benefit from athletic participation and competition. While the debunked arguments at play in this case are not new, we cannot ignore the serious harm that these inaccurate stereotypes and myths continue to cause to transgender young people. NWLC is proud to lead this brief in support of the trans-inclusive athletics policy in Connecticut and in support of ensuring equality for all women and girls, including transgender women and girls.