Federal Court blocks West Virginia law banning trans students in school sports
A federal court has ruled that 11-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson must be allowed to try out for the girls’ cross-country and track teams at her school, blocking West Virginia from enforcing a law that bans transgender girls and women from participating in school sports. The ruling came in the lawsuit challenging the ban filed by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of West Virginia, and Cooley LLP.
“I am excited to know that I will be able to try out for the girls’ cross-country team and follow in the running shoes of my family,” said Becky Pepper-Jackson, the plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”
Becky — her two older brothers and both her parents — are avid runners, according to the ACLU website. When Becky’s school system announced it would reopen sports following the COVID-19 pandemic, she was excited to try out for the cross-country team. But during the 2021 session, the West Virginia Legislature passed HB 3293, which bans trans girls from participating in sports. Becky and her mom, Heather, wrote and called Gov. Jim Justice’s office asking for a veto, but Justice signed it into law despite tens of thousands of similar phone calls, emails, and letters.
Becky never had to “come out” to her family. As early as age four, long before she — or her parents for that matter — understood what the word “transgender” meant, Becky knew she was a girl. Heather educated herself about trans identities and has always accepted Becky as she is.The ACLU
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice signed HB3293 into law at the end of April. It was one of hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills pushed in state legislatures across the country in 2021. During legislative debate, it was not endorsed by any mainstream sporting or health organizations. A similar law in Idaho was blocked by a federal court in 2020, and a federal court in Connecticut recently dismissed a challenge to policies that allow all girls, including girls who are transgender, to participate on girls’ sports teams. Legal challenges are underway against similar laws passed in other states.
The Supreme Court recently refused to undo Gavin Grimm’s victory at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, where he prevailed in challenging his school’s anti-transgender discrimination against him. This decision — which is binding precedent in West Virginia federal court — said that federal law protects transgender students from discrimination in schools.
“Becky — like all students — should have the opportunity to try out for a sports team and play with her peers,” said Josh Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project. “We hope this also sends a message to other states to stop demonizing trans kids to score political points and to let these kids live their lives in peace.”
“We’ve said all along this cruel legislation would not survive a legal challenge, and we’re encouraged by the court’s decision today,” ACLU-WV Legal Director Loree Stark said. “We hope trans kids throughout West Virginia who felt attacked and wronged by the passage of this legislation are feeling empowered by today’s news.”
“We are extremely gratified — for Becky, and for all trans youth — at the court’s recognition that the law and the facts clearly support treating people who are transgender fairly and equally. Discrimination has no place in schools or anywhere else,” said Kathleen Hartnett of Cooley LLP.
Read the ruling here.