Parents of transgender athletes file lawsuit over Arizona transgender athlete ban

The families of two transgender girls have filed a lawsuit aimed at Arizona’s ban on transgender girls competing in organized school sports. The illustration above features the transgender pride flag. (Illustration by Reece Andrews/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – The parents of two transgender athletes filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Arizona’s ban on transgender girls participating in girls sports.

The plaintiffs in the case are the parents of an 11-year-old who wants to play soccer, basketball and cross country, and a 15-year-old who wants to play volleyball.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson claims the ban is a violation of Title IX because it is discrimination on the basis of sex. The ban allows the plaintiffs to compete on teams consistent with their sex assigned at birth, which the lawsuit states would negatively impact the plaintiffs and go against medically prescribed treatment of gender dysphoria.

The suit also states the ban would cause the plaintiffs “to experience shame and stigma, denies them well-known physical and mental health benefits that arise from playing school sports, and directly contributes to negative physical and emotional health consequences.”

The lawsuit comes amid debate over a proposed rule by the U.S. Department of Education that would prevent schools from using a “one-size-fits-all” approach to transgender athletes. The rule would enact an approach similar to that of the Arizona Interscholastic Association before 2018 and would have schools make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

The lawsuit named Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, Kyrene School District, The Gregory School and the AIA as defendants.

“The whole reason we have boys teams and girls teams in virtually every sport is because boys do have an advantage and it’s not fair to expect girls to compete against boys that have greater muscle mass and greater bone density,” Horne told Cronkite News.

The ban was signed into law in March 2022 by then-Gov. Doug Ducey and bans transgender youth from participating in girls school sports. Before the ban was signed into law, the decision to allow transgender athletes to compete on teams consistent with their gender identity was decided on a case-by-case basis by the AIA. The governing body of Arizona high school athletics approved the first transgender athlete in 2014 and since then had not denied a request, according to the lawsuit.

In 2018, the AIA revised its policy to allow transgender athletes to compete on teams consistent with their gender identity as long as the parents of the athlete filed a request with school administrators. The current law forbids the AIA from allowing transgender girls to participate in girls sports.

(Video by Sammy Miller/Cronkite News)

Rachel Berg, staff attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights and additional counsel for the plaintiff, said in a news release Tuesday that the ban does not take into consideration the individual circumstances of each athlete and instead is a sweeping ban.

“It cannot survive constitutional scrutiny and it endangers transgender children,” Berg said.

The Kyrene School District released a statement saying the district does not know the identity of the student and is named as a defendant “because Arizona school boards are legally bound to follow the laws of the state.”

Horne has been outspoken about his support of transgender athlete bans and called the proposed rule “illogical.”

Arizona is one of many states that have laws banning transgender athletes from competing on teams consistent with their gender identity. According to the ACLU, Idaho was the first state to impose a sweeping ban on transgender girls and women from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.

A news release from the NCLR noted that similar legislation in other states, such as Utah, Idaho, Indiana and West Virginia, have been struck down after facing legal action. Justin Rassi, also additional counsel for the plaintiff, believes Arizona’s ban should see a similar fate.

“We are proud to stand up for our clients’ rights to try out for and participate on girls sports teams,” Rassi said in a news release.

Bobbi Lancaster, a longtime physician in the Valley and transgender athlete, believes strongly in the right of transgender athletes to compete on teams consistent with their gender identity.

“Transgender students should be allowed to participate with their cisgender classmates. End of story. If they are prevented from competing, they will quit. They’re not going to join the boys’ team and be teased and bullied. They will join the ranks of the many transgender individuals who avoid athletic participation because of the societal roadblocks in place. And they’ll be robbed of the benefits that accrue from engaging in sports.”

Kathryn Field KATH-rin feeld (she/her/hers)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Kathryn Field expects to graduate in December 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Field is also a sports editor for The State Press.

Sammy Miller SAM-mee MILL-er (she/her/hers)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Sammy Miller expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. She was the sideline reporter for the Orleans Firebirds in the Cape Cod Baseball League and currently is a sideline reporter for the Pac-12.

Reece Andrews REES AN-drooz (he/him)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Reece Andrews expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Andrews has worked for the State Press and at WCSN. He has also been in Cronkite News Los Angeles.