Alanna Smith, a high school track athlete from Connecticut, has been forced to compete against biological males who say they identify as females. In her state, two biological males have won 15 championship titles in girls track, depriving Smith and other girls of medals, athletic opportunities, and potential scholarships.
Smith and three other female competitors in high school track are taking a stand for fairness in girls and women’s sports. They filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Connecticut policy that allows transgender students to compete in girls athletics.
The four young women are being represented by lawyers at the Christian legal nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom. The Trump administration had supported the lawsuit, which sought to protect fairness in women’s sports. Last week, however, the Biden administration’s Justice Department and Education Department withdrew that support.
In this week’s edition of “Problematic Women,” we’re joined by Smith and Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, to talk about this case and the larger threats facing girls and women’s sports.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Kelsey Bolar: Alanna Smith is a high school track athlete from Connecticut who has been forced to compete against biological males who identify as women. In her state, two biological male athletes have won 15 women’s track championship titles, leaving Alanna and other girls robbed of medals, athletic opportunities, and potential college scholarships.
She and two other female high school track competitors are bravely standing up for fairness in women’s sports by filing a federal lawsuit challenging the Connecticut policy that’s been allowing transgender students to compete in girls athletic events.
They are being represented by our friends over at the Christian legal nonprofit, Alliance Defending Freedom. The Trump administration supported the girls’ lawsuit, which sought to protect fairness in women’s sports. But just last week, the Justice Department and the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights under the Biden administration withdrew their support for the case ahead of a hearing scheduled last Friday on a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
So today we are joined by both Alanna and Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, to talk about this case.
Christiana, it’s great to have you here today. I want to start by asking you what it means that the Biden administration withdrew government support from this lawsuit.
Christiana Holcomb: Well, I think it’s deeply concerning and it sends a message to young women, not just in our case, not just to Alanna, Selina [Soule], and Chelsea [Mitchell], but to young women across the country, that their opportunities don’t matter to this administration. Title IX is really clear that young female athletes should have equal athletic opportunities with biological males.
And that means ensuring that we protect the female category so that young women like Alanna have a chance to be on the podium to medal. And as you mentioned earlier, to compete for those college scholarships, which can really make or break their opportunity to attend college and pursue future careers.
Bolar: And for those of us who are not lawyers like yourself, tell us how last Friday’s hearing went in light of the Biden administration’s pulling its support. The lawsuit is still ongoing despite the administration’s no longer backing it, correct?
Holcomb: That’s exactly right. So this was a politically motivated reversal by the Biden administration, to decide they were no longer going to stand with female athletes and instead side with radical activists who are pushing this gender identity ideology.
But as you mentioned, on Friday we did have a hearing on a motion to dismiss. And what that means is the school districts in Connecticut and the state athletic association actually asked the federal court to dismiss the case outright and put an end to it.
Of course, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys were pushing back, saying, “No, absolutely this litigation must move forward. There is a clear Title IX violation here, and we want to preserve fairness and a level playing field for not just our clients, but other female athletes across the state.”
So the hearing went well, the judge kept his cards very close to the vest. He only asked a handful of questions of the advocates during the approximately two-hour hearing. So we’re going to have to wait and see what the written decision looks like. And we expect to receive that within the next two to three weeks.
Bolar: And I have to say this story hits home for me because I grew up in Connecticut playing sports year-round, all different sports: soccer, lacrosse, gymnastics. And I can only imagine being forced to compete with and against biological males. This threat to women’s sports is no longer theoretical, it’s happening.
Girls in all different grade levels are already being forced to compete against biological males. And Alanna, you are one of them. So thank you so much for joining us today. Can you tell us about your experience being forced to compete against athletes of the opposite biological sex from you?
Alanna Smith: It’s been really disappointing because I trained six days a week, two and a half hours a day, just to shave off like hundredths of a second … off of my time. And to go to the line and know what spot I’m already going to get, or that I’m not going to get the spot that I deserve. For example, at the New England meet my freshman year, I ran the 200 and I placed third because one of the biological males got first place. So, that bumped me from getting runner-up down to third place.
And a lot of people will say, “Oh, just run faster.” But I’m obviously an elite athlete, because I won the 400 meter at the New England [meet] as a freshman. And it’s just really disappointing that people don’t realize how unfair the situation really is.
Bolar: And how is this impacting you both short and long term? Are you worried that college scholarships or opportunities to compete at that level could be erased?
Smith: It does make it a lot harder because, for example, to make it to states and the regional meets, it’s only the top six or the top eight. So it’s really important to get those spots. My freshman year, when those two biological males were taking out the two spots to go to those meets, I felt really bad for the biological females that weren’t able to make it because they weren’t able to compete at a more advanced level and be seen by college coaches.
Bolar: Christiana, I want to ask you about some polling that I’ve seen on this issue. There’s two polls I’ve seen at this point by Rasmussen that say the majority of Americans actually oppose these policies that allow biological boys and men to compete in girls and women’s sports.
The media, however, will have you think otherwise, that if you are a parent or student or athlete who opposes these policies, you must be in the minority. Because you know that those who are in favor of transgender athletes competing in girls and women’s sports are very, very vocal.
What have you gathered about where the public stands on this issue?
Holcomb: Well, I think you’re exactly right, that the vast majority of the American public recognizes that it is fundamentally unfair to force young female athletes to compete against biological males in their sports and frankly, be sidelined in the sports that they love.
In addition to the polls that you mentioned, there was polling done over the course of last summer and again into the fall that indicated that upwards of 80% of the American public agree that this is not fair.
So I think it goes to show there is still common sense with the American people and the Biden administration is just completely out of touch [in] pushing these radical policies that are not just anti-woman, they’re anti-science, and [it] fails to recognize the real physical differences between men and women, boys and girls. And really, the reason that we have women’s sports as a separate category in the first place, which again is to ensure that young women like Alanna have the opportunity to be on the podium [and] earn those medals and those scholarship opportunities.
Bolar: Now, Alanna, I’m curious to see what your experience on that front has been like on the ground. Because I know from growing up there, Connecticut is not a conservative state. But are you seeing a lot of your fellow athletes and parents and other community members rally behind you to support your taking a stand, or have you faced a lot of backlash?
Smith: A lot of my friends and my family and my teammates support what I’m doing and think that it’s the right thing. And the only backlash and hate that I’ve really gotten is from social media. So no one has ever really come up to me and said it to my face; they’ll just say it from behind the screen.
Bolar: That’s interesting. And I wonder how much the media’s framing of this issue plays a role. Because I want to read one example of how NBC covered the Biden administration’s withdrawing support. They said: “The Trump administration had supported the Connecticut lawsuit, which sought to ban transgender athletes from participating in girls and high school sports.”
And certainly this lawsuit would have that effect, but what I’ve seen in those advocating for your position is it’s not about the transgender athletes. We all want them to be able to participate in sports, but the issue and what you are fighting for is the protection of girls and women’s sports.
So imagine if this coverage, instead of saying this lawsuit seeks to ban transgender athletes, what about saying the truth about it? Which is it seeks to protect fairness in girls and women’s sports?
Either of you could take this question. How do you push back against this unfair framing on this issue in the way the media covers it?
Holcomb: Well, I think one thing I would say is we absolutely think there’s a place for everyone to compete in sports. The real question is where is it most fair?
And we know that because biological males generally have a 10% to 40% athletic advantage over comparably fit and trained females, depending on sport, that’s the reason that we have women’s sports as a separate category.
So this idea that we’re trying to prevent anyone from competing is simply not the case. It’s just a question of where is it most fair for them to compete.
Bolar: Right. And we also heard former President [Donald] Trump taking aim at this issue in a [Conservative Political Action Conference] speech over the weekend, saying in reference to the very unequal Equality Act: “If this does not change, women’s sports as we know it will die.”
Christiana, I want to ask: Is the former president exaggerating, or is this really what we’re up against?
Holcomb: It’s not an exaggeration at all to say that if policies like what we see in Connecticut proliferate, if the so-called Equality Act were to pass, we absolutely would be facing the beginning of the end of women’s sports as a separate category.
Keep in mind, it only takes one biological male athlete to swipe the championship title. It only takes three males to swipe the podium entirely. And it’s not going to be long before female athletes, frankly, would no longer have an incentive to compete in their own sports because they know that they can’t win. They know the playing field is not fair and that there are inherent physical advantages that biological males have that female athletes simply cannot overcome.
Bolar: Alanna, I want to wrap up this conversation with a question for you about whether or not you’re hopeful for women’s sports in the long term. Do you think this stand that you’re taking now will make a difference in the long term in protecting your ability and other girls’ abilities to compete?
Smith: I do think that taking a stand was the right thing to do. I was hoping that with me and Chelsea and Selina standing up, more girls will start to stand up and realize how serious this issue is. Because if we don’t make a change, then there may no longer be women’s sports.
And I know that I love to play sports, and it’s where I meet all my friends and my family. So I just hope people realize that they should stand up and help to make a difference, because we obviously want women’s sports to continue to be a thing.
Bolar: Absolutely. And I can say, as someone who follows and covers this issue very closely, you are far from alone.
This is happening all across the country, where girls and women are being forced to compete with and against biological boys and men. This is a huge issue. Unfortunately, we’ve seen recent actions from the Biden administration that are elevating this threat.
So we are very thankful for you taking this brave stand in support of fairness in women’s sports.
Christiana, we love and support the work that Alliance Defending Freedom is doing on this issue. For those listening who might want to learn more about Alanna or any of the cases you’re representing, how can they do that?
Holcomb: Well, your listeners are welcome to visit ADFlegal.org, where they can learn more about Alanna’s case.
Bolar: Awesome. Well, thank you both so much. It was great having you on “Problematic Women” today. Alanna, certainly you sound like a Problematic Woman yourself; in a good way, I promise.
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