Nassau Executive Brace Blakeman is suing Attorney General Letitia James over her cease-and-desist order of his ban on transgender girls competing in female sports at county parks and facilities. NewsdayTV's Ken Buffa reports. Credit: NewsdayTV; Danielle Silverman

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman and the Floral Park parents of a 16-year-old girls volleyball player have filed a federal lawsuit against New York State Attorney General Letitia James over the implementation of his executive order barring transgender girls from participating in girls sports at county parks and facilities.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the Eastern District in Central Islip, contends the county has a constitutional right to protect women and girls from unfair competition and personal injury that could occur from playing against transgender athletes.

Last week, the attorney general issued a cease-and-desist order to Blakeman over his Feb. 22 executive order, which she said is in “clear violation” of the state's anti-discrimination laws and must be immediately rescinded.

Blakeman's order resembles Republican efforts nationwide to limit transgender athletes' participation in school sports. Multiple states have passed laws that have drawn court challenges. In April, the Republican-led House passed a bill similar to the state laws, but the measure stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

A legal expert said the same constitutional and legal issues raised by the lawsuits could also be used to defend transgender girls' rights to compete. 

Signing onto the lawsuit with Blakeman are Marc and Jeanine Mullen, of Floral Park, whose daughter, who was not identified in court papers or at the news conference, is a high school volleyball player.

“As a parent of a female athlete, I want to thank County Executive Blakeman and Nassau County for taking this important action to protect women's sports and the ability to participate on a fair and level playing field,” Marc Mullen said in a statement, declining to take questions.

Records show Mullen is a prosecutor in Nassau's Traffic and Parking Violations Agency, and a frequent donor to Nassau GOP candidates and to the County and Town of Hempstead Republican committees.

On Wednesday, Blakeman, a Republican, said he was prepared to defend his order in court.

“Women and girls are a protected class under federal law,” Blakeman said at a Mineola news conference Wednesday. “Transgender women or biological males are not a protected class under federal law. So we need to make it very clear that we are adhering to federal law in protecting our women from being bullied, quite frankly, by biological males.”

The lawsuit cites the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection clause and Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities. It includes a pair of examples of transgender girls injuring female athletes in games in Massachusetts and North Carolina.

Blakeman said he knows of no cases in which transgender girls were attempting to compete in women's sports at Nassau facilities, and no permits have been denied.

In a statement, James' office called the order “transphobic and discriminatory ... This is not up for debate: the executive order is illegal, and it will not stand in New York.”

The county's order went into effect immediately at more than 100 sites, including basketball courts, swimming pools and ballfields. It requires organizations applying for a permit to “expressly designate” whether they are male, female or coed based on their members' “biological sex at birth.” 

Sports organizations that allow transgender girls to compete on girls teams will be denied a permit to utilize Nassau athletic facilities, Blakeman said.

The order does not affect transgender boys participating in male sports or games played on fields controlled by local school districts. Transgender females, Blakeman said, can still compete on male teams or in coed leagues.  

New York Law professor Arthur Leonard, who has written extensively on LGBTQ issues, said it's “highly debatable” that Title IX or the 14th Amendment would override the state's anti-discrimination law in this case.

He also said the argument could be turned around. “Some federal courts have ruled that Title IX does protect transgender women and girls from discrimination by educational institutions, and transgender plaintiffs have persuaded many courts that discrimination against them raises serious questions under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment,” Leonard said.

Juli Grey-Owens, executive director of Gender Equality New York, who is transgender, called Blakeman's order “a solution in search of a problem … The bullying that's going on is actually happening by the county executive. This is just a political maneuver to gain votes.”

Pat Pizzarelli, executive director of Section VIII, Nassau’s governing body of public scholastic sports, said he is not aware of any transgender athletes competing during his seven years in the role. He said it's up to individual districts to approve the participation of transgender athletes.

Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, the Democratic minority leader, criticized the lawsuit as costly “grandstanding” and “political theatrics” that “distract from [Blakeman's] fundamental responsibilities.”

With Gregg Sarra

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman and the Floral Park parents of a 16-year-old girls volleyball player have filed a federal lawsuit against New York State Attorney General Letitia James over the implementation of his executive order barring transgender girls from participating in girls sports at county parks and facilities.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the Eastern District in Central Islip, contends the county has a constitutional right to protect women and girls from unfair competition and personal injury that could occur from playing against transgender athletes.

Last week, the attorney general issued a cease-and-desist order to Blakeman over his Feb. 22 executive order, which she said is in “clear violation” of the state's anti-discrimination laws and must be immediately rescinded.

Blakeman's order resembles Republican efforts nationwide to limit transgender athletes' participation in school sports. Multiple states have passed laws that have drawn court challenges. In April, the Republican-led House passed a bill similar to the state laws, but the measure stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

A legal expert said the same constitutional and legal issues raised by the lawsuits could also be used to defend transgender girls' rights to compete. 

Parents join lawsuit

Signing onto the lawsuit with Blakeman are Marc and Jeanine Mullen, of Floral Park, whose daughter, who was not identified in court papers or at the news conference, is a high school volleyball player.

“As a parent of a female athlete, I want to thank County Executive Blakeman and Nassau County for taking this important action to protect women's sports and the ability to participate on a fair and level playing field,” Marc Mullen said in a statement, declining to take questions.

Records show Mullen is a prosecutor in Nassau's Traffic and Parking Violations Agency, and a frequent donor to Nassau GOP candidates and to the County and Town of Hempstead Republican committees.

On Wednesday, Blakeman, a Republican, said he was prepared to defend his order in court.

“Women and girls are a protected class under federal law,” Blakeman said at a Mineola news conference Wednesday. “Transgender women or biological males are not a protected class under federal law. So we need to make it very clear that we are adhering to federal law in protecting our women from being bullied, quite frankly, by biological males.”

The lawsuit cites the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection clause and Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities. It includes a pair of examples of transgender girls injuring female athletes in games in Massachusetts and North Carolina.

Blakeman said he knows of no cases in which transgender girls were attempting to compete in women's sports at Nassau facilities, and no permits have been denied.

'It will not stand in New York'

In a statement, James' office called the order “transphobic and discriminatory ... This is not up for debate: the executive order is illegal, and it will not stand in New York.”

The county's order went into effect immediately at more than 100 sites, including basketball courts, swimming pools and ballfields. It requires organizations applying for a permit to “expressly designate” whether they are male, female or coed based on their members' “biological sex at birth.” 

Sports organizations that allow transgender girls to compete on girls teams will be denied a permit to utilize Nassau athletic facilities, Blakeman said.

The order does not affect transgender boys participating in male sports or games played on fields controlled by local school districts. Transgender females, Blakeman said, can still compete on male teams or in coed leagues.  

New York Law professor Arthur Leonard, who has written extensively on LGBTQ issues, said it's “highly debatable” that Title IX or the 14th Amendment would override the state's anti-discrimination law in this case.

He also said the argument could be turned around. “Some federal courts have ruled that Title IX does protect transgender women and girls from discrimination by educational institutions, and transgender plaintiffs have persuaded many courts that discrimination against them raises serious questions under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment,” Leonard said.

Juli Grey-Owens, executive director of Gender Equality New York, who is transgender, called Blakeman's order “a solution in search of a problem … The bullying that's going on is actually happening by the county executive. This is just a political maneuver to gain votes.”

Pat Pizzarelli, executive director of Section VIII, Nassau’s governing body of public scholastic sports, said he is not aware of any transgender athletes competing during his seven years in the role. He said it's up to individual districts to approve the participation of transgender athletes.

Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, the Democratic minority leader, criticized the lawsuit as costly “grandstanding” and “political theatrics” that “distract from [Blakeman's] fundamental responsibilities.”

With Gregg Sarra

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