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Two high school girls, one from the Bay Area, were attacked — mostly online and viciously — for qualifying for this weekend's California track and field championships, successes that are now woven into broader conservative campaigns targeting trans youth.
The California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees the state meeting to be held in Clovis, Fresno County, follows gender identity participation rules first introduced in 2013. The guide states, “Athletes participate in programs that conform to their gender identity or gender are most consistently expressed.”
Aside from schools and teams celebrating girls' achievements, however, conservative media and groups that advocate banning trans girls from participating in girls' sports also picked up the story of Sonoma Academy's Athena Ryan, who finished second in the 1600- The varsity's meter dash was last weekend's North Coast Section qualifiers saw her advance.
Groups such as the anti-trans group Women Are Real, citing online video, claimed that fourth-place finisher Adeline Johnson of Branson School in Ross made a thumbs-down gesture in allusion during a awards ceremony on ryan they say it's trans.
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However, Branson School's assistant principal, 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 should not be construed as a statement of her competitors," Gray said.
Scott Wiener, a state senator representing San Francisco, said in an interview that "due to the actual increase in threats and potential violence against LGBTQ people, it is vital that California protect trans youth."
"It is a very dangerous time for LGBTQ youth in the United States, and transgender youth in particular," Wiener said. "California needs to go the other way and we support and embrace these kids to be successful."
After the race, Ryan told racing website MileSplit: “I wasn't expecting that. I've fallen about 17 seconds off my season best in the last two weeks. After last weekend I didn't think I could run out of 5 (minutes) again. I was just about to come here and try to crack the 5 - I'm just glad I did it."
Lily Thompson, director of strategy and communications for Sonoma Academy, a private high school in Santa Rosa, told The Chronicle, "Neither the Ryan family nor the school wish to make a statement at this time."
Johnson, a fine runner who plans to compete in California this fall, appeared to have dropped a spot in qualifying for the state finals. However, the CIF championship program now lists Johnson as a competitor, although a Branson spokesman could not confirm she would be there.
Lorelei Barrett of Buckley High School in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles County, who also qualified for the state championships and competed in the CIF Southern Section semifinals, came under fire.
A CIF spokesman told The Chronicle the organization does not store data on the race, ethnicity, gender identity or religion of individual students and therefore cannot verify whether this is the first CIF championship event to feature multiple transgender participants.
Members of Women Are Real were expelled from the North Coast Section meeting in Dublin on Saturday after they were spotted holding banners reading 'Protect Women's Sport' along the route. The protesters repeatedly misrepresented Ryan, including in post-race social media posts.
The CIF said it will not provide additional security for the Clovis event, although there may be further protests.
"The 2023 CIF State Athletics Championships will have 1,400 student-athletes participating," a spokesman wrote in an email. "Our event security and staffing will remain 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 it, so it's a learning process, but also a question of resources.”
Backlash against trans women and girls in sports has intensified in recent months as the Biden administration wants to prevent public schools from imposing outright bans on individual trans students who choose to compete because of their gender identity. A decision on the proposal, which has attracted more than 130,000 public comments, is expected in the coming weeks.
House Republicans in April passed a ban on transgender women and girls from participating in high school girls' sports. No Democrats voted for the bill, and it is not expected to pass the Senate.
In 2022, the Department of Education issued a "Notice of Interpretation" stating that Title IX, the federal law prohibiting gender discrimination, protects LGBTQ students. Although the notice says nothing specific about sport, it mentions "educational programs and activities funded by the ministry."
Opponents of allowing trans girls to compete in girls' sports argue that children assigned a male at birth have an unfair competitive advantage, particularly if they have experienced any part of testosterone-driven puberty. One of the most recent trans athlete controversies occurred in Connecticut in 2019, when the parents of cisgender girl athletes filed lawsuits to force the state to overturn a rule that allowed two transgender girls to compete.
They based their arguments on Title IX, but the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference held that Title IX provided equal participation and no guarantees of results. The physical advantage argument was found legally irrelevant and a three-judge panel dismissed the lawsuit.
The Supreme Court decided not to interfere in a West Virginia court decision that allowed a transgender girl to compete in track and field earlier this year. That order overturned 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 legislatures have introduced at least 306 bills targeting transgender people in the last two years - more than ever before - and that 86% of those bills focus on transgender youth.
In 2020, Idaho became the first state to bar women and girls from kindergarten through college from competing on gender-matched teams, followed by 18 other states since. This ban is currently blocked by a court order.
California is one of 29 states that do not ban transgender students from participating in sports that conform to their gender identity.
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