After almost four years, four female athletes will finally get their day in court.
In February 2020, Alliance Defending Freedom helped Connecticut high school track athletes Selina Soule, Chelsea Mitchell, Alanna Smith, and Ashley Nicoletti file a lawsuit challenging a Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference policy that allows males who identify as female to compete in girls’ athletic events.
As a result of that policy, all four girls lost to two male athletes who began competing in girls’ high school track in 2017. In just three years, those two males broke 17 girls’ track meet records, deprived girls of more than 85 opportunities to advance to the next level of competition, and took 15 women’s state track championship titles.
Four of those championship titles were earned by Chelsea. Four times she was the fastest female in a women’s state championship race, and four times she watched that title, honor, and public recognition go to a male athlete instead. Despite being one of the fastest female athletes in Connecticut, Chelsea lost to these males more than 20 times over the course of her high school career. The other female athletes represented in the case all likewise have been denied medals, placements, or advancement opportunities because of the male athletes.
Yet in April 2021, a Connecticut district court ruled against these young women—shutting the courthouse door in their faces. The court said that their athletic losses didn’t matter, and their women’s-rights case for fairness wasn’t welcome.
Now, thankfully, the district court will have to listen to these brave young women.
After the court dismissed their legal challenge, the women appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. And just last week, that court issued its opinion, in which all 15 judges of the en banc court agreed unanimously that the four athletes “have plausibly stated an injury in fact.” The 2nd Circuit’s ruling now sends the case back to the district court, where the women will finally get a chance to make their case. After nearly four years of passionate advocating, these athletes will have a chance to set the record straight and seek a merits ruling in favor of fairness and equal opportunities for women under Title IX.
The court will hear Chelsea describe how “losing a state championship is hard—but losing because the race isn't fair is gut-wrenching.” It will listen to Selina share how “demoralizing” and “devastating” it was to miss qualifying for the state championship 55-meter final as well as an opportunity to qualify for the New England Regional Championships by one spot in the 2018-19 season because males took two spots. The court will also hear how Alanna ran a second-place finish in the 200-meter at the New England Regional Championships but was dropped to third behind a male competitor, and how Ashley missed an opportunity to compete at the 2019 outdoor State Open Championship due to two male competitors.
Indeed, 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.
These four courageous girls were just teenagers when they became the first female athletes in the country to speak out on one of our culture’s most contentious topics. They were the first to file a lawsuit challenging their state’s athletic policy and sound the alarm that the future of women’s sports was in jeopardy. They were also the first girls to share their heartbreaking stories of the injustice and unfairness that result from being forced to compete against males.
Selina, Chelsea, Alanna, and Ashley—like all female athletes—deserve access to fair competition. This is imperative not only for the women who have been deprived of medals, potential scholarships, and other athletic opportunities, but for all female athletes across the country. Swimmer Riley Gaines, skateboarder Taylor Silverman, runner Cynthia Monteleone, and countless other women, including middle-school girls in West Virginia and former and present college athletes in Idaho, are standing up every day for equal opportunity in sports.
It may take years more for Selina, Chelsea, Alanna, and Ashley to get the justice and rightful recognition they deserve, but as it is with a lot of things in life, our timing is not always God’s. When something is right and good—as it is in this case of women seeking to preserve biological reality in law and policy—we must be willing to persevere for the long haul. As Christians, we serve a God who is eternal, not limited to our timetable. We must trust that His sovereign justice, truth, and timing are always perfect and good.