THE BIG TALK
An occasional interview series with Americans who are challenging the status quo.
The Louisiana State University Lady Tigers have won 25 national championships in track and field, and Alanna Smith dreams of contributing to another someday.
She just doesn’t think she should have to beat guys to get there.
“When I didn’t have to run against biological males, I felt I had a chance,” said Alanna, 17. “Whether I came in first or fifth place, I knew that was the spot I deserved. Now it’s dispiriting to know who is going to win.”
That winner still could be Alanna, who was born in Louisiana and dreams of running as a Lady Tiger.
She is now a junior at Danbury High School in Connecticut. As a freshman, she took the New England crown in the 400 meters. The sprinter also focuses on two other races: the 100- and 200-meter.
But Alanna finds herself racing in a mixed-up, jumbled-up, shaken-up world. Transgender athletes are asserting a right to compete as they identify their gender to be. Runners who weren’t even at Alanna’s indoor or outdoor meets in junior high school because they were boys are now in the blocks in the next lane.
She is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed in February 2020 that seeks to bar people who were born male from competing in girls’ and women’s sports. Her attorneys are with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian group. They are on the front line in a fight over the interpretation of Title IX, which was originally designed to increase girls’ participation in school sports.
The powers that be are solidly against Alanna.
Under the Trump administration, the Department of Education’s office of civil rights upheld an administrative complaint filed by Alanna and others, and the Justice Department wrote a letter of interest in support of her lawsuit. Last month, with President Biden in office, the Department of Education overturned that ruling and the Justice Department pulled its letter hours later.
In Connecticut, the majority of Democrats in Hartford have shown little interest in taking up Alanna’s cause, her family said, and local and school officials have made it clear that they consider Alanna’s plea an unwelcome burden.
Other states have taken different approaches.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, signed a bill into law last week that prohibits transgender women from playing on women’s athletic teams. More than two dozen other states have similar bills percolating in their legislatures.
“I would hope Connecticut would get on board, but there are no signs of that,” Alanna said.
The Mississippi law seems certain to draw legal challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union and other left-leaning groups that persuaded a federal judge last year to toss an Idaho law that was similar to the new one in Mississippi.
The state laws to keep biological men out of women’s sports would be moot, however, if congressional Democrats succeed with their Equality Act, which would bar discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, requiring schools that receive federal funds to allow transgender athletes in girls’ and women’s sports.
The House passed the bill. If Democrats get it through the Senate, Mr. Biden likely will sign it. He has called the measures “long-overdue federal civil rights protections.”
Those who champion transgender participation, which almost always means biological males participating in women’s sports, say it’s all in Alanna’s mind. They say her case is bigotry and contrary to what they call settled science.
“Transgender athletes exist, and their participation in athletics doesn’t harm cisgender girls and women,” the ACLU has declared. “There is simply no data to back up these concerns.”
In other words, Alanna should doubt her lying eyes when transwomen cruise to easy victories in Connecticut’s 100- and 200-meter state championships.
Alanna runs 100 meters in 12 seconds, which is fast by nearly anyone’s standards. But the athletic standards in her family are higher than most others.
Her father, Lee Smith, was a relief pitcher for the Chicago Cubs. His intimidating visage moved from the mound to Cooperstown, where he is in the baseball Hall of Fame. Her mother is an accomplished runner. Alanna’s uncle, George Radachowsky Jr., played in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts and New York Jets.
“I’ve worked hard with my uncle, and he used to monitor my times and stuff,” Alanna said. “He was the one who suddenly started noticing these other times and said, ‘Wow! Where did these times come from? She’s really good.’ And then he realized they were boys competing.”
It was only last year when a woman kicked off in a Southeastern Conference football game and only last month when a court got around to holding a hearing on Alanna’s lawsuit, but transgender girls have been racing in Connecticut high schools for years. It was during the 2017-2018 season when video of Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller dominating biological women in the state championship went viral.
Alana said she does not live with her father, but he supports her fight to keep women’s sports for biological women. Her family moved from Louisiana to Connecticut when she was 5.
“My coach and my teammates all support what I’m doing, but we don’t really talk about it much,” she said. “The backlash comes mostly on social media from people I don’t even know.”
If she had her way, Alanna would not be battling the powers that be in government, technology and most of the media. She would rather simply train, run and study, preferably with a minimum of math.
But with high school graduation growing closer, her dreams of returning to her birth state and running for glory at LSU seem imperiled by factors over which she has no control.
“I just want fairness to be made in all women’s sports,” she said. “This isn’t fair, and I only have a few seasons.”