Transgender Athlete Banned from Playing Sports in Hanover County Public Schools Files Title IX Lawsuit

Transgender Athlete Banned from Playing Sports in Hanover County Public Schools Files Title IX Lawsuit

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The press release below was originally distributed by the ACLU of Virginia and republished with permission.

The ACLU of Virginia and WilmerHale filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Virginia on behalf of “Janie Doe,” a transgender student whose identity is being withheld out of concern for her safety whom the Hanover County School Board blocked from playing on a sports team for which she tried out and qualified.

"Virginia public schools have a long, shameful history of discriminating against their students,” said ACLU of Virginia Senior Transgender Attorney Wyatt Rolla. “School boards have a duty to protect every child’s right to a public education, but by bullying a transgender young person in its district, Hanover County Public Schools are depriving our client of opportunities every public school student should have – and running afoul of federal discrimination protections that Virginia schools are legally required to uphold.”

“Janie Doe” is a middle school student at a Hanover County public school who is not allowed to participate in a girls’ sports team. Even though she successfully qualified during tryouts, and her parents provided documentation requested by the school board to establish her eligibility, the school board voted unanimously to exclude her from the team.

The school board’s 2023 vote came amid a coordinated effort across the country to block transgender young people from participating in sports. Trans athlete bans have already passed in 24 states – although many of them have been blocked by litigation like the lawsuit filed today, and in Virginia, every bill to ban trans athletes has failed three years in a row.

With no evidence to support that transgender athletes categorically have an unfair advantage over cisgender athletes, bills seeking blanket bans on transgender girls and women participating in school sports appear instead to be motivated by simple anti-trans animus. Trans athletes within the Virginia High School League, for example, have been able to compete for more than a decade on teams consistent with their gender identity without any disruption whatsoever.

“Banning trans students from playing sports consistent with their gender identity violates discrimination protections that are there to make sure public schools include all students,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Eden Heilman. “It’s a fallacy to think we have to choose between protecting girls’ sports and transgender youth, and it’s patently unlawful to prohibit trans students from competing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity – no matter how much adults with an ideological axe to grind may wish to do so.”

Title IX explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education activities that receive federal funding, like playing on sports teams, as B.P.J v. West Virginia State Board of Education recently reaffirmed. Blanket bans on transgender athletes violate Title IX, and schools that enact such policies risk exposing ALL students to potential harm, discrimination, and serious privacy violations. For example, tasking school districts with determining student athletes' sex means exposing any girl who seems "too talented" or "too masculine" to having to share private medical information just to play.

"We jumped through every invasive hoop the school district asked us to so that our child could play, but it still wasn’t enough for them,” said the father of “Janie Doe.” “As a parent, I should be the one determining my children’s participation in extracurriculars, not the government, and certainly not unelected adults trying to score political points by bullying my daughter.”

The Hanover County School Board will have an opportunity to respond to “Janie Doe’s” request to be allowed to play on her girls’ sports team during the coming fall season before the court hears arguments on her request for preliminary legal relief.


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