Holding up signs calling for “Fair Play” and to “Protect Women’s Sports,” a group of smiling moms, dads and grandparents joined three high school girls on the steps of Connecticut’s capitol Wednesday. They beamed with confidence and determination as they braced against a wintry wind and 40-degree temperatures, to announce to the gathered news media that they have accepted the help of the Alliance Defending Freedom. It’s an out of state hate group of religious zealots and lawyers who oppose LGBT rights, representing the girls and their mothers in hopes of legalizing discrimination against transgender girls.

The ADF’s goal is to stop two trans girls of color — who they repeatedly misgendered by incorrectly labeling them as “males,” “boys” and “biological males” — from competing against these girls who are not transgender. The correct term for these girls is “cis,” or “cisgender,” meaning “not transgender.”

The ADF’s weapon in this fight is a new federal lawsuit filed Wednesday against the Connecticut Association of Schools, which has a longstanding policy through the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference that is transgender-inclusive.

Christiana Holcomb, ADF

Among the smiling, almost all-white, faces, nobody’s was brighter than Christiana Holcomb, whose job as legal counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom is given just as much significance, according to her bio, as her role as a key member of the Center for Christian Ministries.

“Girls deserve to compete on a level playing field. Forcing them to compete against boys isn’t fair, shatters their dreams, and destroys their athletic opportunities,” said Holcomb. “Having separate boys’ and girls’ sports has always been based on biological differences, not what people believe about their gender, because those differences matter for fair competition. And forcing girls to be spectators in their own sports is completely at odds with Title IX, a federal law designed to create equal opportunities for women in education and athletics. Connecticut’s policy violates that law and reverses nearly 50 years of advances for women.”

The three cisgender girls represented by the ADF, Selina Soule, Alanna Smith and Chelsea Mitchell, all claim to have been beaten by so-called “biological males.” But Outsports contributor Karleigh Webb disputed two of those claims, providing proof from state competition websites that last year, Mitchell beat all the girls competing in a 100 yard dash, including two trans athletes. Webb also noted Smith won the 400m at the CIAC Open State Championship meet against trans athletes.

The ACLU responded Wednesday afternoon to the ADF lawsuit and legislative attacks in 15 states across the nation, many of which target trans student athletes by attempting to force them to submit to a check of their chromosomes and reproductive internal and external organs.

“There’s no basis in federal law for such an intrusive policy,” said attorney Chase Strangio of the ACLU, who just happens to be a transgender man, during a phone briefing with reporters.

The federal lawsuit, he said, “misgenders the two transgender runners of color named in the lawsuit,” Connecticut high school seniors Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller, and “makes claims not based on science or law but ideological positions designed to push transgender students out of athletics and their schools.”

Strangio called the lawsuit a “direct assault on the ability of transgender youth to survive and thrive,” based on what researchers have concluded to be alarming numbers of suicide ideation among trans youth.

“In high school, when so many young people are trying to find their place in the world, sports can save their lives. I know it saved my mine,” said Team USA’s Chris Mosier, a trans man who is a duathlete, triathlete and race walker. Mosier was the first trans member of Team USA and the first trans man in Olympics history to compete with other men in the Olympic trials last month in Santee, Calif.

Strangio said the ACLU seeks to intervene in the lawsuit. He challenged arguments by ADF that trans girls have a physical advantage over cisgender girls, and told Outsports that to refer to trans girls as “biological males” is nothing short of a tactic designed to discriminate.

“They may have been assigned male at birth, but there is nothing about them that is male, and they are participating on girls teams like other girls,” Strangio said. “I think it is a term that had been deliberately used to cast these young women as less than their peers for the purpose of excluding them and discriminating against them.”

“I spoke with Terry [Miller] just recently and [about] the heartbreak of having your life’s work diminished in this way. When you’re a young person and you get up every morning to work hard and you are just fighting alongside your peers, and then to be undermined in the very core of your identity has lasting consequences. And so I know that the plaintiffs in this action cast themselves as a victim. But the reality is that Title IX prohibits discrimination because of sex, and that includes discrimination against girls who are transgender.”

UPDATE: After the Hartford news conference, a media representative of ADF agreed to answer emailed questions. I received their responses after publication. I’m presenting their answers here, in full.

Outsports: The Southern Poverty Law Center lists ADF as an anti-LGBT hate group. What’s ADF’s response to that label?

ADF: Unfortunately, while the thoroughly discredited Southern Poverty Law Center once did good work, today’s SPLC is morally corrupt both inside and out—as reported by The New York Times last May. In fact, a federal judge recently found that the SPLC hate list is does not “depend upon objective data or evidence” and its application of its “hate group” designation is “entirely subjective.” It’s alarming when anyone trusted by the public cites the SPLC—which some on the left have called “everything that’s wrong with liberalism” and who have deemed its “Hate Map” an “outright fraud” and “a willful deception designed to scare older liberals into writing checks to the SPLC.” In stark contrast to the SPLC’s name-calling tactics that divide rather than unify people, ADF’s legal victories—including 10 wins at the Supreme Court since 2011—have expanded the freedoms of all Americans.

Outsports: The scientific research quoted by Ms. Holcomb following the news conference isn’t listed on the ADF website. Can you send me a link?

ADF: Science and common sense tell us that males are stronger than females. That difference shows up in size, strength, bone density, and even hearts and lungs. No amount of hormone therapy can eliminate all those advantages. In addition to several references to these advantages throughout the complaint, an expert declaration by Gregory A. Brown, Ph.D., that analyzes the available science to address the question of whether males have inherent athletic performance advantages over females, and if so how significant these advantages may be is also available on ADFMedia.org (here). Dr. Brown holds a Ph.D. in health and human performance and is Full Professor of Exercise Science at the University of Nebraska Kearney. He has authored more than 40 peer-reviewed publications in the field of exercise science.

Outsports: As I asked at the news conference, the EEOC has weighed in in defense of transgender discrimination. I recognize that ADF is citing Title IX, but in 2012, the EEOC ruled that discrimination based on transgender status is sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. How will you argue this contradiction?

ADF: EEOC determinations lack the force of law. Girls deserve to compete on a level playing field. Forcing female athletes to compete against biological males ignores real differences between the sexes, isn’t fair, and destroys their athletic opportunities. Compared to biological males, females in Connecticut now have materially fewer opportunities to stand on the victory podium, fewer opportunities to participate in post-season elite competition, fewer opportunities for public recognition as champions, and a much smaller chance of setting recognized records. This reality is discrimination against girls that directly violates the requirements of Title IX.

Outsports: Ms. Holcomb told me following the news conference that ADF views trans girls as biological males. However, Scientific American and other publications have called that view “transphobic.” How does ADF respond?

ADF: That’s not what this is about. What it is about is fundamental fairness is women’s athletics. It’s ensuring that the promise of Title IX is carried through, and that girls are able to compete and experience the thrill of victory that Title IX was designed to provide them when passed nearly 50 years ago.

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