‘Heartbreaking’: Maine parents resent daughters losing to trans cross-country runner

(The Daily Signal) – Parents of high school girls in Maine having to compete against a biological male say they fear the end is near for women’s sports.  

“In the mind of these young…

(The Daily Signal) – Parents of high school girls in Maine having to compete against a biological male say they fear the end is near for women’s sports.  

“In the mind of these young ladies, it’s going to really deter them from even giving the effort, because we’re never going to be able to beat this person,” said Chris Boyington, whose daughter lost to transgender runner Soren Stark-Chessa in a recent Maine cross-country race.

Soren Stark-Chessa, a biological male runner who “identifies” as a female at Maine Coast Waldorf High School in Freeport, went from the middle of the pack in boys’ races to winning the Fastest Sophomore Girl award at Maine’s largest high school cross-country race, in Belfast, Maine, on Sept. 30.

At the Festival of Champions that day, Stark-Chessa placed fifth, though his time would have placed 162nd in the boys’ race. He is set to run against girls again at the state championship meet on Oct. 28. 

The 2021 Maine Human Rights Act makes it unlawful to “deny a person equal opportunity in athletic programs” on the basis of “sexual orientation or gender identity.” 

Previously, the Maine Principals’ Association didn’t allow transgender students to compete if the student would have an “unfair athletic advantage,” but association members voted to repeal the policy at an April 27 meeting, deciding the policy violated state law. The principals group maintained its Gender Identity and Equity Committee.

The 2022-2023 Maine Principals’ Association handbook defines trangender as “an individual whose gender identity does not match his or her assigned birth gender.”

Association Executive Director Mike Burnham told The Daily Signal the transgender athlete issue is in the hands of the state legislature. 

“The MPA, and its member schools, don’t make state law, but are required to follow it,” he wrote in an email. 

The majority of the handbook remains in effect other than the gender equity and inclusion policy, Burnham said. The association’s board of directors is working on updating changed portions of the handbook, though the handbook containing the prior gender policy remains on the association’s website. 

When Cathy Ross, the mother of two runners, heard biological males were competing in girls’ high school sports in other states, she thought it could never reach her conservative community in Houlton, Maine. Houlton is just two miles from Maine’s border with New Brunswick, Canada.

Ross first heard about transgender athletes beating high school females in Connecticut. Biological male athletes beat Chelsea Mitchell, who calls herself the fastest girl in Connecticut, in more than 20 races during her high school career. 

Biological males have won more than 30 separate girls’ and women’s sports titles in the past 19 years, with the trend accelerating greatly in the past three years, according to a tally by the Washington Stand.

Ross was shocked when a female-identifying male competed against her two high school-age daughters at the Festival of Champions. 

Anybody who’s the parent of a daughter, if they have watched their daughter work hard and try to succeed at this, only to be thwarted and to not have a fair chance, I would think that any parent, no matter what their political background is, would feel just as strongly that this is not fair,” Ross said. 

Ross said Stark-Chessa took the spot of a girl who would have been in the top 10, discouraging her daughters and their teammates.

“It has been very frustrating for them,” she said. “It’s humiliating for them. I think it’s very confusing in the sense that they’re looking at this world around them and wondering, ‘How did the adults allow this to happen?’”

Ross said her girls are in a lose-lose situation, as they don’t want to pretend Stark-Chessa is a girl and congratulate him on beating females, but they fear they will be seen as “hateful” or bad sports otherwise.  

“Eventually, if more young men get the idea, it’s possible that you could end up with nothing but biological boys in the top 10 in the girls’ race, and then what do you have left? You don’t have girls’ sports anymore,” she said. “At that point, the girls are going to be despondent, and they won’t bother. They will have lost the exact thing that so many women prior to us have worked so hard at achieving, which was sports specifically for girls.”

Federal Title IX was enacted in 1972 to ensure athletic equality for women and girls, but laws prohibiting so-called discrimination on the basis of “gender identity” have brought an influx of biological males into female spaces. 

Boyington, who lives in Milford, Maine, said his daughter is constantly practicing to achieve her athletic goals, but he fears the entrance of a biological male in her races will greatly reduce her chances.

“She’s got so much athletic ability and so much potential,” he said. “It would break my heart to see that taken away because of something like this.”

Boyington said he wishes the Maine Principals’ Association would find a way to protect girls’ sports. 

“I have no ill feelings toward the trangender community. I really don’t care what anybody else wants to do in their life,” he said. “But I feel like there’s other alternatives without being discriminating, that maybe [Stark-Chessa] can identify the way he wants to identify and still run with the boys, or, let him run with the girls and just compare his time to the biological males to keep a fair playing field.”

Katherine Collins is the mother of a freshman cross-country runner. Collins’ daughter and her teammates fear they will have to run against biological males like Stark-Chessa for the rest of their high school running careers. 

“You can see this kid from 200 meters away, and you can look at his thighs and know he’s a boy,” Collins, who lives in Winterport, Maine, said. “His heart is bigger, his lungs are bigger, he’s pumping more hemoglobin through his arteries and veins, his legs are bigger. And that’s because he’s a boy.”

Collins said she wonders whether Stark-Chessa’s parents had a hand in his desire to identify as a girl. 

The runner’s father, Dr. Frank Chessa, is the director of clinical ethics at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine’s largest city. The Maine Medical Center’s Gender Clinic provides puberty blockers, so-called gender-affirming hormone therapy, and surgical consultations to both children and adults.

Stark-Chessa’s mother, Susan Stark, is a professor of philosophy at Bates College who focuses on reparations for “institutionalized slavery, colonialism, and genocide,” as well as on “ongoing racist policies and white supremacy.” She also specializes in “reproductive ethics.”

Stark and Chessa did not respond to The Daily Signal’s requests for comment. 

Chantal Mincey, who is from Houlton, Maine, said her three daughters worry that one day, boys will not only mix with them on the cross-country course, but also in girls’ restrooms and locker rooms.

“It’s discouraging for the younger female athletes right now that have older siblings that are running with biological males because it’s not just their generation right now,” Mincey said, “but it’s going to affect their daughters and their granddaughters.”

Mincey said she has hugged several girls crying over having no chance at beating Stark-Chessa. Losing to biological males crushes high school girls’ already fragile self-confidence, she said. 

Even though Mincey’s daughters didn’t race against Stark-Chessa, it was difficult for them to see their teammates train hard and lose to a biological male. 

“These girls love to run,” she said. “This is what they love to do. And when you put a biological male in that equation, beating them at what they love, it’s taking away that love for them, and then they don’t have another outlet.”

Mincey said she and many other parents of cross-country runners are determined to protect their girls.

“I have to reassure them: It’s your mom and dad’s fight, and we will protect you, and we will support you in this, and we’ll do the best we can, and we won’t give up,’” she said. “We will do our best to protect these female athletes.”

Boyington said he believes transgender athletes like Stark-Chessa being allowed to compete will destroy women’s and girls’ chances at athletic achievement if something doesn’t change.

“My personal opinion: I think it’s the end of women’s sports,” he said. “Maybe not now, tomorrow, next year, but very soon after.”