After a week of online vitriol and transphobia aimed at two runners scheduled to compete at the state track and field preliminaries Friday, neither showed up to the starting line of their scheduled 1600-meter heats at Buchanan High in Clovis.
“The CIF is disappointed for two of our student-athletes and their families because due to the actions of others, they found it necessary to withdraw from the State Track and Field Championships out of concern for the student’s well being,” the California Interscholastic Federation, the governing body for high school sports in California, wrote in a statement provided to The Los Angeles Times.
“The CIF strongly denounces discriminatory or harassing behaviors that impact our student-athletes [sic] opportunities to participate in interscholastic competitions.”
Last weekend, Lorelei Barrett of Sherman Oaks Buckley finished third and Athena Ryan of Santa Rosa Sonoma Academy second in the girls’ 1600-meter races at their respective sectional meets. However, amid fierce dialogue over the fairness and validity of transgender women competing in girls’ sports, both were the subject of thousands of comments critiquing their gender identity and suggesting they’d taken spots in the preliminaries away from cisgender women.
On Sunday, a November video of Barrett speaking to running website MileSplit was posted on Twitter by the Independent Council on Women’s Sports, an organization which identifies itself as “advocating for female protected categories in sport” and frequently posts content targeting transgender athletes. Calling Barrett a “trans-identifying male,” the video accumulated over two million views, with comments such as “this kid’s parents are depraved” and “state sponsored cheating.”
At the same time, fury erupted in Northern California when Ryan, similarly labeled a “trans-identifying male” in another viral post by ICONS, finished second in the girls’ 1600-meter race at the CIF North Coast Section Meet of Champions. At the meet, protesters displaying a banner that read “Protect Female Sports” were removed by security.
Barrett’s family declined comment earlier in the week in response to requests directed to coach Larry Medina Jr., and Medina didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry Friday as to why Barrett didn’t race. Similarly, a representative from Sonoma Academy declined comment on behalf of Ryan and her family on Tuesday.
The World Athletics, the international governing body for track and field, announced new rules in March prohibiting “male-to-female transgender athletes who have been through male puberty” from female world rankings competitions. In April, the Biden administration proposed a rule to prohibit schools from banning transgender athletes from competition.
The CIF protects transgender participation in sports in its bylaws, as its Guidelines for Gender Identity Participation read: “All students should have the opportunity to participate in CIF activities in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on a student’s records.”
Students or parents must contact individual schools to indicate students have a “consistent gender identity different than the gender listed on the student’s school registration records” in order to change participation in a sport by gender, according to the bylaws.
“All of our athletes, all the eligible athletes, are afforded the opportunity to compete with the gender they feel most comfortable with,” said Brian Seymour, the CIF’s associate executive director.