Metro Weekly

Trans middle schooler can sue West Virginia over athlete ban, judge rules

Judge finds 11-year-old cross country runner has plausibly argued that she is being discriminated against by the law.

Becky Pepper-Jackson (right) and her mother, Heather, are suing to overturn West Virginia’s transgender athlete ban. – Photo: Lambda Legal.

A federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit from a transgender middle school runner challenging West Virginia’s ban on transgender students participating in sports teams that match their gender identity.

The law was passed predominantly by Republicans, who argued that allowing transgender athletes to participate in female-designated sports denies cisgender athletes the chance to excel and potentially compete for athletic scholarships.

Becky Pepper-Jackson, who wished to join her middle school’s girls’ cross country team, sued after the law went into effect, asking for a court order to block the law from being enforced on the grounds that it violates her right to equal protection and discriminates against her based on sex.

Last Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin, of the Southern District of West Virginia, rejected attempts by the Harrison County Board of Education, the West Virginia Board of Education, State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch, and the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission to dismiss the lawsuit. Goodwin had previously blocked the law from taking effect in July.

The various local and state officials had argued that Pepper-Jackson lacks standing to sue, and they had no power to enforce the law, even though the state Board of Education, the state superintendent of schools, and the WVSSAC are tasked with developing rules for how the ban will be implemented.

Meanwhile, the Harrison County Board of Education argued that it had no intentions to enforce the law against Pepper-Jackson, despite being mandated to by the law.

In his ruling, Goodwin noted that Pepper-Jackson had “plausibly stated a claim” alleging that each defendant in the case, by seeking to enforce the law, is discriminating against her and violating her rights under both the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, a federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding.

Related: West Virginia governor signs transgender athlete ban into law

By refusing to dismiss the lawsuit, Goodwin allows Pepper-Jackson and her legal team to move forward with their case and make an argument against the transgender athlete ban on its merits.

“I just want to run, and the state wants to stop me from running as part of a team at my school,” Pepper-Jackson said in a statement celebrating Goodwin’s ruling. “I love running and being part of a team, and the state of West Virginia should explain in court why they won’t let me.”

“We’re pleased that Becky will now have the opportunity to make her case in court,” Avatara Smith-Carrington, a staff attorney with Lambda Legal, said in a statement. 

“We’ve said all along that this bill is not only cruel and stigmatizing but also unconstitutional,” Loree Stark, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, added in a statement. “With this ruling, we look forward to proving our case in court.”

See also:

Canada moves towards banning conversion therapy after historic vote

RuPaul’s Drag Race will include first straight male queen in 14th season

Trans Jeopardy! player Amy Schneider makes history competing in Tournament of Champions

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