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Civil rights groups are suing West Virginia over a recently signed law that prohibits transgender athletes from competing in sports based on their gender identity.
The West Virginia State Board of Education, the Harrison County Board of Education, and the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission — the governing body for middle and high school sports in the state — are all named in the federal lawsuit.
The new law in question is one of seven similar laws passed this year by Republican-led legislatures and signed into law by Republican governors.
An eighth governor, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), signed executive orders to bar transgender athletes from competing based on their gender identity after lawmakers refused to adopt technical changes she requested to a bill seeking to impose such a ban at the secondary-school and collegiate levels.
Nearly identical pieces of legislation, often employing the same phrasing and wording, have been introduced in nearly three dozen states as part of a push by GOP lawmakers to exploit divisive social issues ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
A recent Gallup poll found that Americans, by an almost 2-to-1 margin, favor restricting transgender athletes to competing in sports based on their assigned sex at birth.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of West Virginia and the law firm Cooley LLP on behalf of Becky Pepper-Jackson, a transgender 11-year-old who hopes to try out for the girls’ cross-country team at her middle school but would be prohibited from doing so under the new law.
In their complaint, Pepper-Jackson’s lawyers argue that the law unconstitutionally “discriminates on the basis of sex and transgender status,” violating her rights under both Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Pepper-Jackson’s lawyers are asking the court to not only declare the law unconstitutional — and thus, invalid — but to issue preliminary and permanent injunctions blocking the state from attempting to enforce the ban on any transgender athletes in West Virginia, including their client. Without action, the law will take effect on July 8.
A similar law that was passed in Idaho last year has been blocked from taking effect by a federal judge.
“I just want to run, I come from a family of runners,” Pepper-Jackson, a former member of the cheer team for the local youth football league, said in a statement. “I know how hurtful a law like this is to all kids like me who just want to play sports with their classmates, and I’m doing this for them. Trans kids deserve better.”
The lawsuit was filed shortly after the ACLU sued Arkansas to block a different law prohibiting physicians from providing gender-affirming health care treatments for gender dysphoria, such as hormones or puberty blockers, to transgender minors.
The Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ advocacy group, recently announced it intends to mount a similar lawsuit against the state of Florida seeking to overturn a nearly-identical transgender sports ban that was signed into law on Tuesday, June 1.
“We told lawmakers around the country that we would see them in court if they passed legislation attacking trans youth, and today we are making good on that promise,” Joshua Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU, said in a statement. “Transgender youth in West Virginia who want to be on a team and challenge themselves should have the opportunity to do so, just like any other student.”
“Countless studies have shown the beneficial impact participating in team sports has for kids growing up,” Avatara Smith-Carrington, a Tyron Garner Memorial Law Fellow for Lambda Legal, said in a statement.
“For trans kids, this is even more true. Becky just wants to play, to run with her classmates, to be a kid. We joined the ACLU in warning what would happen if states passed these hateful discriminatory laws, and here we are today.”
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