Andraya Yearwood & Carly Swierbut
High-school trans athlete Andraya Yearwood (right) competes in a New Haven, Conn., track meet on May 17, 2018. (Catherine Avalone / Hearst Connecticut Media)

By ERWIN FREED

On Feb. 12, a group of three female high-school athletes and their mothers filed a federal lawsuit against the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and various towns’ boards of education. The lawsuit is an escalation of an ongoing campaign against trans rights being organized nationally by right-wing groups, especially the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and the Heritage Center.

Background

As Socialist Resurgence reported last October, the ADF has targeted high-school sports as an especially vulnerable link in the chain of trans rights. The decision to specifically go after high-school sports is a calculated measure to lean on transphobia and anti-women bias that are reflected in “common sense” understanding that trans women are equivalent to men and that cis women can not really be athletes in the same way as cis men. Actually, the arena of high-school sports is just one of many fronts on which reactionaries are fighting to roll back hard won trans rights.

The initial ADF lawsuit filed in June followed a broad ratcheting up in the offensive against trans people and particularly trans women. The SR article in October reported, “On April 12, the ban on transgender troops was put into action. The next month on May 2, the Department of Health and Human Services published documents encouraging health-care providers and insurance companies to deny health care to trans patients based on ‘religious beliefs.’

“The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced plans to roll back anti-discrimination protections for trans people in homeless shelters on May 22. And Aug. 14 saw the proposition of a rule that would allow refusing to hire and firing employees based on their LGBTQ+ status. Just two days later, on Aug.16, the Department of Justice issued a statement saying that federal law ‘does not prohibit discrimination against transgender persons based on their transgender status.’”

The case in Connecticut

According to the reigning interpretation of Title IX and governing regulations by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, where sports are designated into mens’ and womens’ divisions, athletes have the right to participate in the appropriate category based on self-identification. Such guiding principles are common in sports. The Olympics uses the principle of self-ID, with the caveat that trans women need to have been on testosterone suppressing medication for at least a year.

The logic of the February 2020 lawsuit is that men have inherent biological advantages in sports against women. Yearwood and Miller are men, and therefore they have inherent biological advantages against other female track runners. The tone of the lawsuit wavers between apparent scientific objectivity on the one hand, and patronizing infantilization of the cis plaintiffs on the other. For example, page 38 of the document reads, “While important races always involve some element of stress, Chelsea has felt physically sick before races in which she knew she would have to race against a male, while Plaintiff Selina Soule suffered depression after being excluded from participation in State finals because top places in the girls’ rankings were occupied by males.”

The apparent apprehension felt by these runners seems to be unaffected by the fact that Yearwood and Miller regularly lose. According to Vox, “Those same Connecticut trans girls failed to place in the top five at the New England High School track championships in 2019, losing to faster cisgender competition. In fact, just days after filing their federal suit, one of the complainants beat both trans girls in a 50-meter indoor sprint event.”

Coronavirus covers offensive against trans people

The capitalist class is attempting to use the global Covid-19 pandemic to roll back labor and civil rights. On Monday, March 16, instead of mobilizing emergency resources to protect frontline workers, the Idaho Senate passed a bill banning trans and inter-sex high-school athletes from participating in the correct gender divisions. This was despite the fact that there are no known trans athletes competing in Idaho’s highschools. In reality, the vote is a warning shot for a larger anti-trans agenda, which includes a proposed bill that would ban adolescent hormone therapy and impose life in prison on doctors who perform “top” and/or “bottom” surgeries on teenagers. The Idaho House also has proposed legislation that would ban the ability to change one’s gender identity on government documents.

On March 24, Attorney General Bill Barr filed a statement of interest siding with the ADF in the lawsuit against the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference. While all eyes are on the government’s continuous inability to put peoples’ lives above corporate profits, the Attorney General is frankly stating his belief that trans people do not deserve civil rights.

Stand with trans athletes!

Athletics are the first area of attack for right-wing forces attempting to enforce a strict gender binary. To many, it appears low-stakes and common sense. In reality, banning trans people from participating in the correct gender categories of sports is fundamentally an attack on the democratic right of self-identification and the reality of trans experience. There are also severe consequences, including social ostracization and suicide.

Working people have nothing to gain from falling on the side of trans exclusion. Instead of arguing that trans athletes take opportunities from “real” women, we need to be fighting for real opportunities for all women, trans and cis. That means braking past the narrow limits of meritocracy and creating a society where people’s life trajectories are not dictated from birth by the size of their phallus. The means to such a society is shown by the fight for trans rights in the workplace and all other sectors of daily life.

Socialist Resurgence stands with Andraya Yearwood, Terri Miller, and all other trans people fighting for their rights and inclusion.