Three young female track athletes in Connecticut have submitted a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, asking for an investigation of allegedly illegal Title IX discrimination against them. Due to a Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) policy allowing biological males who identify as women to compete in girls’ sports, these young women — along with many of their fellow female athletes, they say — have been deprived of opportunities to win competitions, and even to qualify for competition in the first place.
Meanwhile, just last month, the Catholic, all-girls middle and high school from which I graduated announced that it would withdraw from the Potomac Valley Athletic Conference (PVAC) in the District of Columbia area after the conference adopted a policy like the CIAC’s, allowing students to compete in sports according to gender identity rather than biological sex.
For Oakcrest School, the choice to leave the conference was made regretfully, and not on the basis of Catholic teaching about human sexuality, though upholding the school’s mission was at the heart of the decision. “The safety-and-fairness issue for us was the biggest,” Miriam Buono, an administrator at Oakcrest, tells National Review in a phone interview. “Our mission is deeply rooted in the natural law and the teaching of the Catholic Church, and certainly we really understand that girls are girls and boys are boys, and that’s a beautiful thing. But we weren’t going to impose our mission on other schools.”
When Oakcrest made a case to the PVAC in opposition to the proposed policy change, it was based not on Catholic beliefs about progressive gender ideology but on concern for the safety and success of its students.
“We went with a very logical, science-based approach, which was safety and fairness,” Buono adds. “We were the only all-girls school in the PVAC at the time. We felt that it was really important for us to advocate for safety and fairness on the playing field for our girls, and for any girls playing.”
Despite the obvious flaws with these sorts of policies, Oakcrest’s concerns weren’t enough to sway the athletic directors in the PVAC, who voted to advance the progressive agenda at the expense of female athletes. Buono says the school already has ensured that its students will have as many opportunities as possible to continue competing against local schools, but because of this policy change, Oakcrest students no longer can compete for titles within a conference, undoubtedly a loss.
The sorts of concerns Oakcrest articulated are far from unfounded, and they are in no way motivated by animus toward individuals who identify as the opposite sex. As much as transgender activists insist otherwise, sex is a biological reality that carries with it a number of concrete practical effects. Policies that address those realities don’t exist to deny or affirm individuals’ self-identification. Having separate bathrooms and locker rooms for men and women — not to mention separate sports teams — is based on real bodily differences rather than on personal conceptions of “gender identity.”
The safety of female wrestlers, for instance, is implicated when biological males enter their competitions, regardless of whether those males identify as women. It isn’t discrimination on the basis of “gender identity” for those young women to want to avoid wrestling biological males, whether owing to physical-safety concerns or to a desire for a fair competition. It isn’t discrimination for students and parents to want sex-segregated restrooms and locker rooms for the sake of safety and privacy.
Even in non-contact sports where concerns about physical safety are less immediate, fairness matters, and student athletes shouldn’t be accused of discrimination when they want to preserve their ability to compete and succeed. The current record-holder for the entire U.S. in the women’s 55-meter run is a biological male, who is permitted by the NCAA’s transgender-athlete policy to compete against women. In Connecticut, female track competitions at the high-school level have been thrown into disarray across the whole state because of the participation of only two biologically male athletes who identify as women.
According to the complaint filed by Alliance Defending Freedom, those two males “have taken 15 women’s state championship titles (titles held in 2016 by ten different Connecticut girls) and have taken more than 40 opportunities to participate in higher level competitions from female track athletes in the 2017, 2018, and 2019 seasons alone.” Regardless of one’s opinions on how best to treat gender dysphoria or accommodate those who identify as transgender, this policy is evidently unfair to young women.
Perhaps surprisingly, groups that consider themselves supportive of feminist goals have not rushed to the defense of female athletes. The ACLU, for example, has taken the position that “banning trans girls [biological males] from school sports is neither feminist nor legal” — even though no one is proposing to ban these athletes from competition. When tennis champion and LGBT activist Martina Navratilova wrote that “letting men compete as women simply if they change their name and take hormones is unfair,” her former allies condemned and disavowed her. (It is worth noting that the CIAC policy doesn’t even require men to take testosterone-suppressing hormones at all in order to compete against women; mere self-identification is the only criterion.)
The increasingly intersectional Left seems unwilling to wrestle with the inherent tension between transgender ideology and feminism: How can they decry the patriarchy even as they declare that men can now be women? And how can a movement claim to value the unique role and contributions of women while insisting that “being a woman” is essentially indefinable?
As many on the left demand that anti-discrimination policies be amended to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories, the fate of female sports should be in the front of our minds. For female track runners in Connecticut and female athletes at Oakcrest — and young women like them across the country — we need to preserve spaces to compete and excel safely and fairly.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that a biological male held the NCAA record for the women’s 400-meter run.