I’ll open with honesty regarding my discomfort rather than expect to capture your attention with the extraordinarily careful opening I wrote and re-wrote numerous times while attempting to tip-toe into one of the most controversial and complicated topics in high school athletics.
Whenever there’s a new development in the transgender participation issue that Connecticut finds itself at the heart of, a small part of me wishes it would go away. That’s a cowardly reaction, perhaps, but it’s the truth and I need to start with that declaration.
I’m uncomfortable dissecting this in a public forum — not because of the issue’s sensitivity, but because I don’t have any real answers to offer. It’s been nearly two years since our state’s foray into a national conversation, and I can’t say I’ve come to any conclusions that have truly stuck and my opinion is forever evolving.
I’m paid and encouraged to be at the heart of public debate, but doing so without a sharp angle of coherent resolution might be useless and even counterproductive.
Yet we must talk about the issues built around transgender females Andraya Yearwood of Cromwell and Terry Miller of Bloomfield dominating track races designated for girls. For the absence of public conversation only suggests the issue is unimportant. It is important, even if unnecessary to actually pick a side or reach a firm stance.
In June, three high school athletes filed a federal discrimination complaint against a statewide policy that allows athletes to compete in sports corresponding with their gender identity.
Yearwood and Miller, both born male but female in how they identify, are dashing to one dominant performance after the next, breaking records but not a single rule. They have carried themselves with dignity. They have been an inspiration to the LGBTQ community and they are right to speak up and act on its behalf while pursuing dreams as the people they are.
Yet their inclusion in girl’s competition is not without its injustices, and those who oppose their presence are right to speak up against it and in defense of cisgender athletes being at an obvious physiological disadvantage.
The complaint, filed on behalf of the three athletes by the conservative Christian law firm Alliance Defending Freedom, seeks to reverse the CIAC rule and claims that it has cost others top finishes in competitions and possibly college scholarships. I don’t buy the scholarship argument because times are posted and identified and college coaches will find any athlete good enough to perform at a certain level, but I do think it is unfortunate that a certain spotlight and sense of fairness or accomplishment is taken away from cisgender runners-up.
And I know this: It’s all going to stick with these kids. Enter “Andraya Yearwood,” “Terry Miller” or “Selena Soule” into Google today or 20 years from now and what’s going to pop up?
The transgender debate is something they’ll forever be tied to, no matter what else defines them as people. Soule, of Glastonbury, is the only athlete involved in the lawsuit challenging the CIAC rule to identify herself. These are our future leaders, and they are the kids at the forefront of an issue that adults like me tip-toe around.
They are the lightning rods. They take the criticism. Some of it directed toward Yearwood and Miller — in social media, and emails that flood the inboxes of Courant editors and reporters — has been truly ugly and that is really sad.
I come to you today feeling for people on both sides of a great debate driven, to an extent, by those anonymous whispers, the social media commentary and the legalese of lawsuits and bylaws. In a space where full-speed declarations with near disregard for conflicting opinions are allowed and even often valued, I need to say that the following applies and counts as an opinion: I can see it both ways. I understand both sides.
My opinion is simple, that this is complicated, that there are no absolutes, that there is no clear resolution, and all the while we tend to forget that these are high school student-athletes bearing the weight of something with heavy implications. We’re talking about kids, even while we’re also talking about so much more.
I can feel the tension, sense a lack of progress, understand the outrage for some, the joy for others, the need for inclusion and equal opportunity across the board.
So when the latest race is won by a transgender female, when the latest official or unofficial complaint surfaces, when the latest chirps on social media come to my attention, when emails pour in, when my mind spins all that together and wanders toward the societal and basic human issues that are touched, yes, I sometimes think, “I don’t want to deal with this.”
Because I don’t know how to solve it. No one does. But at least it’s being explored.
News came Thursday that the federal Office of Civil Rights has begun investigating the CIAC’s policy. That does not mean the suit filed by the three athletes has merit, as the Office of Civil Rights pointed out. It just means that there is a lot to figure out and it’s time to start trying to figure it out.
When you have no clear answers, sides who don’t accept or understand the other, it hurts even while the interest represents necessary movement to what can be something to accept into the future … whatever that is. Maybe it’s not allowing transgender athletes to compete as their gender of identity instead of gender of birth until they have begun, or completed a portion of, sexual reassignment. Yet do we really want to get into having teenagers feeling any pressure whatsoever to consider medical treatment they might not be 100% sure about?
I grew more uncomfortable just typing that last sentence.
Wait until a 6-foot-8, 250-pound boy announces as a high school junior that he identifies as a female and decides to play girls basketball. It would be that kid’s right, and it would be a disaster from a safety standpoint. The sports are different but the issue, at its heart, would not be.
And there’s this: Will we see someone who was born female but identifies as male decide to compete in boy’s track and field? Opponents might argue Yearwood and Miller have made their moves for competitive reasons. I don’t agree with that. But seeing a transgender male decide to run against cisgender males would even more clearly showcase what Yearwood and Miller have cited: comfortable inclusion, a feeling of being what and who they truly are.
What will make everyone happy immediately? Nothing. What would make everyone happy eventually? Nothing, maybe.
Yearwood and Miller should be applauded for their bravery. So should Soule.
I wish I had an answer that would make those who support any or all of them happy.
The CIAC thinks it has the right policy.
I don’t know about that.
Maybe the Office of Civil Rights’ review can advance the discussion.
©2019 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)
Visit The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) at www.courant.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.