RINDGE — Franklin Pierce University has rescinded its policy on transgender student-athletes, part of an agreement to settle a complaint against the school filed with the U.S. Department of Education.
The school enacted the policy — which allowed transgender women to compete on its women’s sports teams after one year of hormone treatment, including testosterone suppression — in September 2018, according to a letter from Timothy Mattson, a compliance team leader for the federal education department’s Office for Civil Rights.
Franklin Pierce’s policy also included guidelines on transgender men, and allowed them to compete on men’s teams after obtaining NCAA permission to take testosterone as a hormone treatment. Transgender men could not compete on women’s teams after starting hormone treatment, under Franklin Pierce’s policy.
Mattson’s letter, dated Friday, was posted on the website of Concerned Women for America, the Washington, D.C.-based conservative Christian nonprofit group that filed the federal complaint against Franklin Pierce. CWA filed the complaint late last year after CeCe Telfer, a transgender woman, won an NCAA Division II National Championship in track and field last May while competing on Franklin Pierce University’s women’s team.
The New Hampshire Union Leader first reported the outcome of the case Sunday.
The university issued a written statement saying, in part, that the school “disagree[s] with the position that the federal administration has taken with respect to transinclusive athletics participation.
“... We regret that we were required to rescind the Transgender Participation and Inclusion Policy we adopted and put forward based on the NCAA’s model, but have made this move to comply with a resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights,” the statement reads. “... We will continue to work with the Northeast-10 Conference and the NCAA on this important issue.”
According to a separate statement on Franklin Pierce University’s athletics compliance website, the school “remain[s] committed to an inclusive environment for all of our students while also complying with federal law. Franklin Pierce University and the Department of Athletics will continue to support all students and student-athletes.”
A university spokesperson declined to comment on how Franklin Pierce’s decision to rescind its policy would affect transgender men who would want to compete for the school.
According to the letter from the Office for Civil Rights, the federal education department found that Franklin Pierce’s policy may have violated Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in education and other school activities that receive federal funding.
The civil rights office, Mattson wrote in his letter, “has concerns that the Policy denies female student-athletes equal athletic benefits and opportunities by permitting transgender athletes to participate in women’s intercollegiate athletic teams.
“... Where separating students based on sex is permissible—for example, with respect to sex specific sports teams—such separation must be based on biological sex,” Mattson wrote.
Franklin Pierce agreed to resolve the federal complaint by revoking its Transgender Participation and Inclusion Policy, according to a letter signed by university President Kim Mooney, dated Sept. 18.
That letter also was posted on the CWA website, concernedwomen.org. In a written statement on the site, the group’s president and CEO, Penny Nance, said the resolution is “the first victory for college female athletes being forced to compete on an unfair playing field against males claiming transgender status and competing in women’s sports.”
“Transgender policies have turned Title IX on its head, denying the rights of women and girl athletes to compete only against athletes of the same sex and threatening the future of women’s sports,” Nance said in the statement.
“Federal action against Franklin Pierce University is a warning shot to the NCAA and every college and university in America to back off policies that discriminate against female student-athletes and restore fairness and equity in women’s sports,” she continued.
Disputes over policies for transgender student-athletes have arisen elsewhere throughout the country. In Connecticut, for example, the families of three high school girls filed a federal lawsuit in February aimed at preventing transgender girls from competing on girls sports teams, according to the Associated Press. The lawsuit came after two transgender girls have won more than a dozen combined high school track and field state championships.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut is representing the two transgender girls in that lawsuit. In a written statement, Chase Strangio, deputy director for Trans Justice with the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, said the suit “is a dangerous distortion of both law and science in the service of excluding trans youth from public life.
“The purpose of high school athletics is to support inclusion, build social connection and teamwork, and help all students thrive and grow,” Strangio said. “Efforts to undermine Title IX by claiming it doesn’t apply to a subset of girls will ultimately hurt all students and compromise the work of ending the long legacy of sex discrimination in sports.”
That case also involved a complaint to the federal education department’s Office for Civil Rights, which resulted in the department threatening to withhold funding from Connecticut school districts if they allowed transgender girls to compete on girls teams, the AP reported last month.
Franklin Pierce University’s policy on transgender student-athletes was based on guidance from the NCAA, which the organization issued in 2011. That document, similar to Franklin Pierce’s policy, permits transgender women to compete on women’s college sports teams after completing one year of testosterone suppression treatment.
Keene State College does not have a specific policy on transgender student-athletes, but spokeswoman Kelly Ricaurte said the school follows NCAA and Little East Conference rules on the issue. That means a transgender student-athlete could compete at Keene State if they followed the NCAA guidance.
Telfer, the Franklin Pierce University student-athlete at the center of the federal complaint, joined the Ravens women’s track and field team in 2019 after completing more than 12 months of hormone treatment, including testosterone suppression and daily estrogen pills, according to a story last fall in Champion Magazine, an NCAA publication. Before that, Telfer competed for three years on the school’s men’s track and field team.
During her final season, Telfer won three Northeast-10 Conference championships before winning the NCAA Division II national championship in the 400 meter hurdles in May 2019. Telfer, who graduated from Franklin Pierce University last year, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.Jack Rooney can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1404, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RooneyReports.