A biologically male runner in West Virginia must be allowed to compete as part of a girls’ cross-country team, a judge ruled Thursday, despite West Virginia’s recently passed ban on biological males competing in women’s sports.
The judge issued a preliminary injunction against the ban, allowing middle schooler, Becky Pepper-Jackson, to “sign up for and participate in school athletics in the same way as her girl classmates” while the ban is litigated, according to a report from the Daily Caller. The injunction allows Pepper-Jackson to try out for the girls’ cross-country team, though there is no guarantee that Pepper-Jackson will make the squad.
West Virginia is one of a handful of states to pass laws barring biological males from competing in women’s athletic events — bans borne of several instances where biological males have beaten biological females in competitions that purported to be for women only.
“West Virginia recently passed the ‘Save Women’s Sports Bill,’ which prohibits transgender girls from participating on most girls’ sports teams,” Law & Crime noted Thursday. “The ACLU and LGBTQ+ advocacy group Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on Pepper-Jackson’s behalf in May, challenging the statute.”
Pepper-Jackson, the complaint noted, has lived as a female for “several years” and has competed on girls’ sports teams before. The ban, the ACLU argued, would force Pepper-Jackson to return to competing on teams with other biological males.
Judge Joseph Goodwin, a Bill Clinton appointee of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, issued a harsh rebuke of House Bill 3293 in his order granting a preliminary injunction, noting that the law was “strategically referred to as the ‘Save Women’s Sports Bill’” and that West Virginia Governor Jim Justice (R) signed it into law, the outlet continued.
The law itself states that “[a]thletic teams or sports designated for females, women, or girls shall not be open to students of the male sex where selection for such teams is based upon competitive skill or the activity involved is a contact sport.” Students can compete on teams in line with their “biological sex.”
Goodwin cited the 14th Amendment’s guarantees as his rationale for granting the preliminary injunction.
“A fear of the unknown and discomfort with the unfamiliar have motivated many of the most malignant harms committed by our country’s governments on their own citizens,” Goodwin wrote. “Out of fear of those less like them, the powerful have made laws that restricted who could attend what schools, who could work certain jobs, who could marry whom, and even how people can practice their religions.”
He then equated “gender identity” with race, though it is not clear that the former is an immutable characteristic.
“Recognizing that classifying human beings in ways that officially sanction harm is antithetical to democracy, the states ratified the Fourteenth Amendment. It ensures that no state may ‘deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,'” Goodwin wrote. “Accordingly, the courts are most juberous of any law—state or federal—that treats groups of people differently.”
“At this point, I have been provided with scant evidence that this law addresses any problem at all, let alone an important problem,” the judge added. “When the government distinguishes between different groups of people, those distinctions must be supported by compelling reasons.”