Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 4, 2021 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- The nominee for Secretary of Education on Wednesday said that high school athletes identifying as transgender should be allowed to compete in girls’ athletic events.

During a Senate hearing Wednesday on the confirmation of Miguel Cardona to lead the Department of Education (ED), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kent.) repeatedly pressed Cardona on the matter of male athletes who identify as transgender competing in girls’ athletic events.

Paul brought up a 2019 letter by the ED Office of Civil Rights, which stated that “boys can’t compete with girls in sports.” The letter was sent by the office to the state of Connecticut, where the state’s high school athletic association in 2017 allowed athletes to compete in sports based on their “preferred gender identity,” and not their biological sex.

Paul asked Cardona if he would continue to enforce that letter, if confirmed as Education Secretary. Cardona would not directly answer if he would enforce the letter, but said he would uphold “the civil rights of all students, and that includes activities they may engage in, in high school or in athletics.”.

Paul repeatedly followed up with questions on the topic, asking Cardona if he was “bothered” by biological males dominating at high school girls’ athletic events, and asking if he thought that situation “fair.”

“The girls are being pushed out,” Paul said, citing the case of Connecticut where two male sprinters identifying as transgender females won 15 state championship titles after the state’s athletics policy changed in 2017.

“They [female athletes] don’t make the finals in the state meets, they don’t get college scholarships–that it’s really detrimental to girls sports,” Paul pressed Cardona.

Cardona is currently Connecticut’s commissioner of education. Several Connecticut female track athletes have since sued over the state high school athletic association’s policy.

Cardona said he believes it “is the legal responsibility of schools to provide opportunities for students to participate in activities, and this includes students who are transgender.” He repeated that phrase nearly verbatim numerous times throughout the hearing.

Other senators, including Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), supported Paul’s line of questioning about athletes identifying as transgender.

“I just don’t think it’s American that a genotypical male–a person with a Y chromosome–is competing against girls,” said Marshall.

He added that “sports taught me (when) there was a level playing field, that we all have equal opportunity.”

Cardona replied to Marshall that “I respect the perspectives of people that feel differently.”

“I commit to working with you and others to making sure that we can provide opportunities for all students in a non-discriminatory fashion,” he said, “but also making sure that we respect the rights and beliefs of all of our students.”

Other senators asked Cardona about LGBT issues as well.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) brought up President Biden’s recent executive order “on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation.”

The sweeping order stated the administration’s policy of ensuring equal access to public goods such as high school sports or single-sex bathrooms, based on a person’s gender identity. The order instructed all federal agencies to implement that policy.

Ryan Anderson, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, had said that the order “spells the end of girls’ and women’s sports as we know them,” in that it would allow males identifying as female to compete in women’s sports.

Baldwin urged Cardona to implement the order if he is confirmed as Education Secretary, and said that it was “critically important” for students to have a safe learning environment.

“As Secretary, how do you plan to change the tone set by your predecessor and communicate the department’s support for LGBTQ students,” Baldwin asked.

Cardona replied that it was “non-negotiable to make sure that our learning environments are places that are free of discrimination and harassment for all learners, including our LGBTQ students,” and said that he would implement the order.

Elsewhere in the hearing, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) cited Catholic Schools Week as he emphasized the importance of schools reopening for in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also advocated for school choice vouchers for lower-income families to send their children to private schools.

Noting the “learning loss” of students who are not currently being educated in-person, Scott said that “as we celebrate Catholic Schools Week, we note that there are over five million students today in private schools, and many of those schools are open today.”

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