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Justice Department withdraws from transgender athlete case

Last Updated Feb 23, 2021 at 5:14 pm MST

The U.S. Justice Department and Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights have removed their support for a federal lawsuit in Connecticut that seeks to reverse a state policy allowing the participation of transgender athletes in girl’s high school sports.

The lawsuit was filed a year ago by several cisgender runners who argue they have been deprived of wins, state titles and athletic opportunities by being forced to compete against two transgender sprinters.

The Education and Justice Department’s moves comes just days before a Friday hearing on a motion to dismiss that lawsuit.

Last March, then-Attorney General William Barr signed what is known as a statement of interest in the lawsuit, arguing the policy of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the board that oversees the state’s high school athletic competitions, runs afoul of Title IX, the federal law that allows girls equal educational opportunities, including in athletics.

In a filing Tuesday, Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham and other department officials withdrew Barr’s statement, saying “The government has reconsidered the matter.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs declined to comment.

The CIAC allows athletes to compete as the gender with which they identify and has said it is following a state law that requires all high school students be treated according to their gender identity.

The U.S. Department of Education’s office for Civil Right last spring and summer sent letters threatening to cut off some federal funding to Connecticut school districts that followed the policy.

On Tuesday, the office notified those involved that it was withdrawing those letters “as well as the underlying findings and determinations,” and does not wish to become a party in the lawsuit.

On his first day in office, President Biden signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere.

Dan Barrett, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, which represents the two transgender athletes in the lawsuit, said Tuesday’s action represents “a hint that the government, the Department of Education, may now have a different view of Title IX.”

CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini has said the organization’s transgender policy was formed with federal and state guidance and that multiple courts and federal agencies, including the Justice Department had previously acknowledged that the term “sex” in Title IX is ambiguous.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said Tuesday he was pleased with the U.S. Justice Department’s decision to withdraw Barr’s statement.

“Transgender girls are girls and every woman and girl deserves protection against discrimination. Period,” he said in a statement.

Pat Eaton-Robb, The Associated Press