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Appeals court overturns West Virginia transgender sports ban


CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A federal appeals court has overturned a West Virginia transgender sports ban, finding that the law violates Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools.

The 2-1 ruling Tuesday from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocks a West Virginia law banning transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams.

The court said the law cannot lawfully be applied to Becky Pepper Jackson, a 13-year-old girl who has been taking puberty-blocking medication and has publicly identified as a girl since she was in the third grade.

In February 2023, the court had blocked the state’s bid to kick Jackson off her middle school track and field team if the law were enforced.

The court Tuesday ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union, its West Virginia chapter and LGBTQ interest group Lambda Legal, which filed a lawsuit in 2021 against the state and county boards of education and their superintendents as defendants. Republican Gov. Jim Justice had signed a bill into law earlier that year.

“This is a tremendous victory for our client, transgender West Virginians, and the freedom of all youth to play as who they are,” ACLU West Virginia attorney Joshua Block said in a statement.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican, said he was “deeply disappointed” in the decision.

“I will keep fighting to safeguard Title IX. We must keep working to protect women’s sports so that women’s safety is secured and girls have a truly fair playing field,” Morrisey said. “We know the law is correct and will use every available tool to defend it.”

Sports participation is one of the main fronts in legislative and legal battles in recent years over the rights of transgender people in U.S. public life. Most Republican-controlled states have passed restrictions on participation, as well as bans on gender-affirming health care for minors. Several have also restricted which bathrooms and locker rooms transgender people can use, particularly in schools.

West Virginia is one of at least 24 states with a law on the books barring transgender women and girls from competing in certain women’s or girls’ sports competitions.

The bans are in effect in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.

In addition to West Virginia, judges have temporarily put enforcement of the bans on hold in Arizona, Idaho and Utah.

A ban in Ohio is set to take effect later this month.

The Biden administration originally planned to release a new federal Title IX rule — the law forbids discrimination based on sex in education — addressing both campus sexual assault and transgender athletes. Earlier this year, the department decided to split them into separate rules, and the athletics rule now remains in limbo.

Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision blocking a ban on transgender athletes competing in girls’ and women’s sports in Idaho.

The 2nd Circuit ruled differently last year in a challenge to Connecticut’s policy of letting transgender girls compete in girls’ sports, reviving the case and sending it back to a lower court without ruling on its merits.


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