Current, former CT high school athletes appeal dismissal of lawsuit that aimed to block transgender girls

New Haven Connecticut - February 22, 2020: Chelsea Mitchell of Canton H.S., center, wins the girls 55-meter dash defeating second place finisher Kedarjah Lewis of Haddam-Killingworth H.S., left, and third place finisher, transgenderTerry Miller of Bloomfield H.S., right, during the CIAC State Open Indoor Track Championship Saturday at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven.

New Haven Connecticut - February 22, 2020: Chelsea Mitchell of Canton H.S., center, wins the girls 55-meter dash defeating second place finisher Kedarjah Lewis of Haddam-Killingworth H.S., left, and third place finisher, transgenderTerry Miller of Bloomfield H.S., right, during the CIAC State Open Indoor Track Championship Saturday at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven.

Peter Hvizdak / Hearst Connecticut Media

Four current and former Connecticut high school track and field athletes have appealed a federal judge’s dismissal of their case that sought to end a Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference policy allowing transgender athletes to compete in girls sports.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys filed the appeal Wednesday, a month after the dismissal.

“The CIAC is pleased with the U.S. District Court’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit brought by four Connecticut families challenging the CIAC’s inclusive athletic participation policy,” CAS-CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarni said in a statement. “The district court’s decision recognized that the CIAC policy reflects the federal guidance in place at the time it was adopted, and that there is no basis for a claim for damages against public schools who participate in CIAC sponsored athletics. The CIAC has maintained throughout this lawsuit that its inclusive participation policy aligns with both federal and state law, and it was prepared to defend this lawsuit on the merits had there been any basis for it to continue. The CIAC continues to welcome and support participation by transgender students in accordance with its mission to promote meaningful participation in high school sports activities for all student athletes.”

The four students — Selina Soule of Glastonbury, Chelsea Mitchell of Canton, Alanna Smith of Danbury, and Ashley Nicoletti of Immaculate — sought in February 2020 in part to bar two transgender athletes from competing in the spring season. That season never happened because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which also delayed the suit.

USA Today published an op-ed piece signed by Mitchell on Saturday in which she’d said they would appeal.

“The court’s decision to (dismiss) tells women and girls that their feelings and opportunities don’t matter, and that they can’t expect anyone to stand up for their dignity and their rights,” the op-ed said.

Mitchell said in the op-ed that she was discouraged standing at the starting line, saying that a transgender athlete had an “enormous physical advantage.” An earlier version of the op-ed had numerous references to an incorrect phrase used to describe transgender girls that had, by Wednesday, been edited to use “transgender” references instead; “we regret that hurtful language was used,” an editor’s note said.

“With every loss, it gets harder and harder to try again,” she wrote, though she happened to win the race she was describing. “That’s a devastating experience. It tells me that I’m not good enough; that my body isn’t good enough; and that no matter how hard I work, I am unlikely to succeed, because I’m a woman.”

On April 25, judge Robert N. Chatigny dismissed the suit, which was filed against the state’s governing body for high school athletics, the CIAC; their own boards of education; and Bloomfield’s and Cromwell’s, which represented the two transgender athletes, Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood .

Miller and Yearwood, Soule and Mitchell all have since graduated, and Chatigny dismissed the plaintiffs’ challenge to the CIAC policy in part because Smith and Nicoletti weren’t expected to have to face a transgender athlete this season.

“Courts across the country have consistently held that Title IX requires schools to treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity,” Chatigny wrote, and CIAC policy aligns with that. The decision referred to several concurring decisions in appeals. “This unbroken line of authority reinforces the conclusion that the plaintiffs’ claims for money damages are barred,” Chatigny wrote.

The plaintiffs said that competing against transgender athletes deprived them of higher positions in races, in some cases depriving them of opportunities to compete further.

mfornabaio@ctpost.com; @fornabaioctp