West Virginia Law Barring Transgender Girls From School

In the second defeat for transgender rights in schools in a week, a federal district judge upheld a West Virginia law that bars transgender athletes from competing in girls’ school sports in the state.

The Jan. 5 ruling by Judge Joseph R. Goodwin of Charleston, W. Va., is an about-face from the his 2021 decision blocking the law at a preliminary stage, permitting a then-11-year-old transgender girl to compete in girls’ cross country and track.

The girl, Becky Pepper-Jackson, has said: “I just want to play.” Her lawsuit challenges the statute as a violation of her 14th Amendment right to equal protection of the law and of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs.

In his 2021 decision, Goodwin said Pepper-Jackson was being excluded from school athletics “on the basis of sex” in likely violation of the equal-protection clause and Title IX.

But his new decision this week in B.P.J. v. West Virginia State Board of Education, on motions for summary judgment by various parties in the case, held that it was “constitutionally permissible” for the West Virginia legislature to limit participation in school and college sports to classifications based on “biological sex.”

The 2021 Save Women’s Sports act defines “female” as “an individual whose biological sex determined at birth is female.”

Goodwin said the legislature was motivated by the widely discussed situation in Connecticut where two transgender girls had defeated cisgender female athletes in some track competitions. (That led to a lawsuit by the cisgender girls that was recently rejected by a federal appeals court, which upheld the transgender-inclusive rules of Connecticut’s school sports governing body.)

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