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Connecticut Policy Denies Opportunities to Female Athletes

An appellate court ruled that a lawsuit from four female athletes who were forced to compete against males can proceed.
Alliance Defending Freedom
Alanna Smith, a track athlete from Connecticut, crouches on the track

In 1972, Congress passed Title IX, a civil rights law dedicated to securing equal educational opportunities for women.

Since its passage, Title IX has opened opportunities in both academics and athletics for innumerable girls and women. Roughly forty years after Title IX was passed, over 190,000 women were participating in college sports every year. Before that, fewer than 30,000 did.

But by ignoring the very real biological differences between men and women, a policy in Connecticut denies girls exactly what Title IX promised. It allows males who identify as female to compete in girls’ sports. But males have obvious physical advantages and have deprived girls in Connecticut repeatedly of championship titles and opportunities to advance to the next level of competition.

Thankfully, four female athletes are standing up to this unfair treatment. They’ve faced some setbacks, including a court decision dismissing their case. But they’re not backing down, and they recently received a favorable decision from a federal appellate court. ADF is standing alongside these strong women in their pursuit to ensure that our laws and policies reflect biological reality. When they don’t, it’s girls and women who most often suffer the consequences.

Chelsea Mitchell, Alanna Smith, and Selina Soule are three of the Connecticut female athletes standing against unfair treatment.

Female athletes forced to compete against males

Selina Soule, Chelsea Mitchell, Alanna Smith, and Ashley Nicoletti competed at a high level in track and field in high school. All four have spent years and hundreds—if not thousands—of hours training for the chance to be the very best, to be recognized as champions, and even to compete for college scholarships.

But the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) allows males to compete in the female category. This threatens the opportunities for female athletes to earn titles and even scholarships.

Take Chelsea Mitchell for example. Four times, Chelsea was the fastest girl in a state championship race yet was sent home without a gold medal because she was beaten by a male. She’s also lost two all-New England awards to male athletes. And she’s not alone.

In 2019, Selina Soule finished just one place short of advancing to the final round of the Indoor Track and Field State Championships. Selina likely would’ve gone on to compete at regionals, but two males who identify as female competed against her, winning first and second place and setting state records. Instead of getting to compete in front of college scouts, Selina was relegated to the sidelines.

Alanna Smith also has a record of success in track and field. In 2019, she won the 400-meter dash at the New England Regional Championships as a high school freshman. Later, however, Alanna came in third place to a male in the 200-meter dash, when she should have been recognized as runner-up.

Likewise, in 2019, as a freshman, Ashely Nicoletti placed ninth in a preliminary State Class race in which the top eight advance to the finals. She was beaten by two male athletes. Without this unfair competition, she would have placed seventh and advanced to the final State Class race, yet another opportunity lost for a female athlete.

The CIAC policy creates an unfair athletic environment for girls and threatens equal opportunities for female athletes across the state.

Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools

Title IX guarantees equal opportunity in girls’ sports. But the CIAC’s policy ignores the real physical differences between the sexes and makes it harder for girls to chase their athletic dreams. That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit challenging this policy: after all, our laws and policies should reflect the biological reality that men and women are different, not ignore it.

Biologically, men have many physical advantages over women relevant to athletic performance, including a greater muscle mass, greater bone density, higher lung capacity, and larger hearts. Regardless of how they identify, the reality of men’s inherent physiological strength means that no matter how hard a girl trains, she cannot compete at the same level as a comparably fit male.

In taking a stand with Selina, Alanna, Chelsea, and Ashley, ADF is ensuring that this reality is recognized and that these female athletes can compete on a level playing field.

Women’s sports deserve protection

Unfortunately, Selina, Alanna, Chelsea, and Ashley aren’t the only girls in their state whose athletic opportunities have been unfairly taken away.

Since the CIAC adopted this policy, female athletes have repeatedly watched from the sidelines as males won medals and honors that otherwise would have been theirs. Between 2017 and 2020, males took 15 state titles that previously were held by nine different girls in Connecticut.

Men and women are biologically different. To ignore this fact in the arena of sports tips the whole playing field.

“Even before I get to the track, I already know that I’m not going to get first place, or maybe even second place,” Alanna says. “I know that no matter how hard I work, I won’t be able to have the top spot.” Selina, Chelsea, Alanna, and Ashley know that when they compete against males, the odds are stacked against them—and no amount of training can change that.

These four female athletes understand the importance of protecting women’s sports, so they have not given up even in the face of adversity. After a federal district court dismissed their case, they appealed the ruling with the help of ADF attorneys. And in December 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit reinstated the case, allowing it to proceed in federal district court.

“Selina, Chelsea, Alanna, and Ashley—like all female athletes—deserve access to fair competition. The CIAC’s policy degraded each of their accomplishments and scarred their athletic records, irreparably harming each female athlete’s interest in accurate recognition of her athletic achievements,” said ADF Senior Counsel Roger Brooks. “The 2nd Circuit was right to allow these brave women to make their case under Title IX and set the record straight.”

Case timeline

  • June 2019: ADF filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, asking it to investigate illegal discrimination against the Connecticut female athletes. That August, under the Trump Administration, the Office agreed to open an investigation into the CIAC.
  • February 2020: ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit in federal court against the CIAC.
  • March 2020: The U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief supporting ADF’s position in the case, but in February 2021, under the new Biden administration, the Department of Education withdrew its support for these female athletes.
  • February 2021: The ACLU argued that this case should be dismissed and that these female athletes’ concern about fairness in women’s sports should be disregarded.
  • April 2021: Unfortunately, the court agreed with the ACLU and dismissed the case.
  • May 2021: ADF appealed this mistaken ruling to the U.S Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.
  • December 2022: A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit ruled against allowing the case to move forward.
  • February 2023: The 2nd Circuit announced that the full court would rehear the case.
  • June 2023: ADF attorneys argued before the full 2nd Circuit.
  • December 2023: The full 2nd Circuit reinstated the case, allowing it to proceed at the federal district court level.

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