Sports // High School
Two high school girls, one from the Bay Area, have come under attack— much of it online and vicious— for qualifying for this weekend’s California state track and field championships, achievements that have now been woven into broader conservative campaigns targeting trans youth.
The California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees the state meet set to be held inClovis (Fresno County), follows “Gender Identity Participation” rules first implemented in 2013. The guide reads, “Athletes will participate in programs consistent with their gender identity or the gender most consistently expressed.”
Beyond schools and teams celebrating the girls’ accomplishments, though, conservative media outlets and groups who favor banning trans girls from competing in girls sports seized upon the story of Sonoma Academy’s Athena Ryan, whose second-place finish in the 1600-meter run at the North Coast Section qualifying meet last weekend allowed her to advance.
Groups such as theanti-trans group “Women Are Real,” citing an online video, claimed the race’s fourth-place finisher, Adeline Johnson of Branson School in Ross, made a thumbs-down gesture during an award ceremony in reference to Ryan, whom they say is trans.
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However,Branson School’s assistant head of school, Nathalio Gray, told The Chronicle via email that Johnson’s gesture had nothing to do with Ryan. It “was a response to her mother regarding Adeline’s individual performance, and it should not be construed as a statement about her competitors,” Gray said.
Scott Wiener, a state senator representing San Francisco, said in an interview that it was critical that California protecttrans youth amid “a real uptick in threats and potential violence against LGBTQ people.”
“It’s a very dangerous time forLGBTQ young people in the U.S., and especially for trans young people,” Wiener said. “In California, it absolutely needs to go in the other direction and we support these kids and embrace them to succeed.”
Speaking after the race, Ryan told racing websiteMileSplit, “'I wasn’t expecting that. I dropped like 17 seconds on my season’s best in the past two weeks. After last weekend, I didn’t think I could run low 5 (minutes) again. I was just coming here trying to break 5 — just glad I finished it out.”
Lily Thompson, director of strategy and communications for Sonoma Academy, a private high school in Santa Rosa, told The Chronicle, “At this time neither the Ryan family nor the school wishes to make any statement.”
Johnson, a decorated runner who is committed to compete atCal starting this fall, appeared to fall one place out of qualifying for the state finals. However, the CIF championship meet program now lists Johnson as a participant, though a Branson spokesperson could not confirm she would be there.
Also qualifying for the state championships, and coming under attack, was LoreleiBarrett of Buckley High School in Sherman Oaks (Los Angeles County), who competed in theCIF Southern Section semifinals.
A spokesperson for theCIF told The Chronicle the organization does not keep data on individual students’ races, ethnicities, gender identities or religions, and thus could not verify if this was the first CIF championship event with multiple trans participants.
Members of Women Are Real were removed from the North Coast Section meet in Dublin on Saturday after they were seen at the track holding banners that read “protect women’s sports.” The protesters repeatedlymisgendered Ryan including on social media posts after the race.
The CIF said it would not add additional security for the event in Clovis, even with the potential for additional protests.
“There are 1,400 student-athletes competing at the 2023CIF Track and Field State Championships,” a spokesperson wrote in an email. “Our security and staffing of the event will be consistent for a championship event of this size.”
Wiener said that many organizations “don’t have a lot of resources for security or other things. These organizations have never really had to deal with that before, so it’s a learning process, but it’s also a matter of resources.”
Backlash aroundtrans women and girls in sports has intensified in recent months as the Biden administration seeks to prevent public schools from placing full bans on individual trans students looking to compete based on their gender identity. A decision on the proposal, which has drawn more than 130,000 public comments, is expected in the coming weeks.
House Republicans passed a ban ontransgender women and girls from competing in girls’ high school sports in April. No Democrats voted for the bill, and it is not expected to be taken up by the Senate.
In 2022, the Department of Education issued a “notice of interpretation” stating that Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination, protectsLGBTQ students. Though the notice doesn’t say anything specific about sports, it does mention “education programs and activities that receive funding from the Department.”
Opponents of allowingtrans girls to compete in girls sports argue that children assigned male at birth have an unfair competitive advantage, especially if they have gone through any part of a testosterone-driven puberty. One of the most recent trans athlete controversies unfolded in Connecticut in 2019, when the parents of cisgender girls’ athletes sued to force the state to rescind a policy allowing two transgender girls to compete.
They framed their case around Title IX, but the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference maintained that Title IX grants equal participation, not guarantees of outcomes. The physical advantage argument was ruled legally irrelevant and a three-judge panel dismissed the suit.
The Supreme Court opted not to interfere with a court order in West Virginia allowing atransgender girl to compete in track this year. That order nullified a 2021 state law called the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” which banned trans girls from participating consistent with their identity.
NPR reported that state lawmakers have introduced at least 306 bills targetingtransgender people in the past two years— more than in any previous period— and that 86% of that legislation focuses on trans youth.
In 2020, Idaho became the first state to bantrans women and girls from kindergarten through college from competing on teams that align with their gender identity, followed by 18 more states since. That ban is currently blocked by a court injunction.
California is one of 29 states that do not bantransgender students from participating in sports matching their gender identity.
Reach MarisaIngemi: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @marisa_ingemi
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