The federal Department of Education recently made a controversial ruling saying transgender high school athletes in Connecticut who competed on boys' teams cannot switch to girls’ sports. The feds say that deprives girls of athletic opportunities guaranteed under civil rights law. It’s a national debate that's forged some unexpected alliances. Today we tackle the transgender divide in sports.
Sharyl: We were there last February, when the high school athletes lined up in New Haven, Connecticut for the 55 meter dash at the state track and field championships.
(video shows footage of dash at state track and field championships)
Chelsea Mitchell, the blonde with a red shirt in the middle was positioned next to Terry Miller, orange top, blue shorts... who ran on the boys’ team until about three years ago.
Same with Andraya Yearwood. In 2018, months after both athletes switched over from the boys’ team, they dominated the girls’ state championships, placing first and second. Together, they’ve won 15 state championship races since 2017.
(video shows interview with Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood)
Here they’re speaking to ABC.
ABC Correspondent: At what point do you decide actually it’s more appropriate for me to be on the girls team and competing with other girls?
Andraya Yearwood: I decided the summer before 9th Grade
Sharyl: But what some see as an important step forward for transgender athletes, others see as infringing upon the rights of non-transgender girls.
Sharyl: Have all of you lost races and competitions to biological males?
Selena Soule: Yes. We all have.
Sharyl: How many races?
Soule: Too many to count.
Sharyl: Chelsea Mitchell is one of the fastest sprinters in the country.
(video shows footage of Chelsea running in race)
She’s shown here in 2018, losing the 55 meter dash to Miller in red on one side, and Yearwood on the other.
The next year, Mitchell again loses to Miller in orange, and Yearwood to the left.
Chelsea Mitchell: It's been very unfair for me and the other girl competitors to race against them. I personally lost four state championships to all New England awards and countless other opportunities because of it.
Sharyl: Mitchell, and two other athletes, Alana Smith, and Selena Soule, have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Connecticut policy that lets students switch from the boys’ team to the girls’ team without surgery or hormone treatments.
Alana Smith: I would say that it's unfair that us biological females have drawn against biological males, and that we really just want fairness in our sport and we just want change to happen.
Soule: I agree with Alana that, right now, the current Connecticut policy for athletics is that biological males can compete in with the girls with no hormone therapy needed. And we personally don't think that's fair, and we know that girls are missing out on opportunities to be able to advance and succeed and get titles.
Soule: We fully support these athletes and in the way that they choose to identify themselves. But athletics have separate rules because it's about your physical,physical advantages and your physical differences.
Sharyl: It’s become a national conversation.
Last year (2019), CeCe Telfer, raised as Craig Telfer, became the first known transgender to win a women’s college track and field championship.
Schulyer Bailer was recruited to swim on the women’s team at Harvard but ended up deciding to compete on the men’s team, the first transgender athlete to compete at the highest level of sports, division one.
Earlier this year, (Feb. 2020) Megan Youngren didn’t run fast enough, in the end, to qualify but was the first openly transgender athlete to compete at the U.S. Olympic team trials, choosing to enter the women’s field.
And in New Zealand, Gavin Hubbard, who was a men’s weightlifting competitor, became Laurel Hubbard and dominated the women’s competition.
Last year (2019), the adult cartoon South Park featured an episode called “Board Girls.” It lampooned the controversial notion of athletes switching from the men’s field to women’s.
South Park clip: Miss Swanson, how does it feel to be competing today?
I can’t tell you how free I feel now that I’ve started identifying as a woman.
Further complicating the debate, some feminist allies normally counted on to support gay and transgender rights are coming down on the other side when it comes to sports.
Tennis icon, Martina Navratilova is outspoken, saying transgenders are robbing women of hard fought opportunities, and threatening women’s sports as we know them.
Martina Navratilova: It’s always been about fairness in sport. We cannot have sympathy and empathy for transgender on a smaller level, sport level, trump for lack of a better word, or overtake fairness for women and girls.
Christiana Holcomb: This is absolutely not a partisan issue and I think that's playing out when you see radical leftist feminists as they identify linking arms with conservative feminist organizations saying, ‘No, this is not fair.
Sharyl: Christiana Holcomb is with the conservative Christian nonprofit representing Mitchell, Smith and Soule: Alliance Defending Freedom.
Holcomb: There was a study done that came out of Sweden just last fall that indicated that males generally have a 10 to 20% performance advantage over similarly fit and trained biological females. And those advantages are not undone by any length of hormone treatment or hormone replacement therapy. So even even if it did, frankly, you would still have a male displacing a deserving young woman in her own athletic competition, something set aside for her benefit and to allow her to compete for college scholarships, so it still wouldn't be fair.
Sharyl: We asked for interviews with Miller and Yearwood, but neither wanted to speak with us.
Instead, we talked to Asaf Orr of the transgender youth project at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which says transgenders should compete wherever they wish.
Asaf Orr: In sports, there's always a competitive advantage of some sort, right? Someone got to train longer, trained harder or has some inherent athletic abilities that other athletes don't have. And so really it's sort of focusing on the fact that these transgenders, our student athletes, they really just want to compete.
Sharyl: If I'm describing it correctly, a man, or someone who has always been considered a man, including maybe himself considering himself a man, could wake up one morning and technically say, “Today, I compete as a woman,” and do that, and then say the next day, “I compete as a man again.”
Orr: And I think that's a misconception of these policies is that it's not that it's not that easy and nor does that happen. As is often the case with transgender people, they recognize their gender identity, usually for years prior to them coming out, because of various social pressures or other things that kind of delays them from doing that. So this is not a situation where someone wakes up one morning and says, “Oh, I'm really woman, I'm just going to go compete on a women's sports.”
Sharyl: With resentment building on both sides, there’s a confounding array of policies.
9 states require high school transgenders to have surgery or extensive hormone treatment to compete on the opposite-sex team.
In March, Idaho became the first state to bar transgender girls from participating in girls’ and women’s sports.
18 states and Washington, D.C. allow transgenders to join either team without hormones or surgery.
16 states are somewhere in between.
and 6 states have no explicit policy.
Connecticut athletic authorities say: “Connecticut law is clear and students who identify as female are to be recognized as female for all purposes, including high school sports.”
How did that race we saw in Connecticut last February turn out, after Mitchell had lost to Miller two years straight?
This time, Mitchell wins. Some say that proves transgender athletes do not have an unfair advantage.
Sharyl (on camera): On the other hand, critics say whether a transgender athlete takes first, second or third place, it’s taking a spot from someone else who would have had it.