State Watch

Federal judge rules West Virginia law restricting transgender athletes is constitutional

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A federal judge on Thursday ruled that a West Virginia law prohibiting transgender female athletes from playing on women’s sports teams in public middle schools, high schools and universities is constitutional.

Southern District of West Virginia Judge Joseph R. Goodwin upheld H.B. 3293, also referred to as the “Save Women’s Sports Bill,” finding that the state legislature’s definitions of “girl” and “woman” as being based on biological sex is “substantially related to the important government interest of providing equal athletic opportunities for females” and thus “constitutionally permissible.”

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of middle-schooler Becky Pepper-Jackson, an 11-year-old who wished to try out for the girl’s cross-country team at her school.

Her lawyers argued that she was deprived of her rights under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and Title IX, a federal education law preventing sex-based discrimination.

They added that the law was “targeted at, and intended only to affect, girls who are transgender.”

“The record does make clear that, in passing this law, the legislature intended to prevent transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams,” Goodwin wrote. “But acting to prevent transgender girls, along with all other biological males, from playing on girls’ teams is not unconstitutional if the classification is substantially related to an important government interest.”

Goodwin also wrote that he would not be “getting into the business” of defining “girl” or “woman,” saying that “the courts have no business creating such definitions, and I would be hardpressed to find many other contexts where one’s sex and gender are relevant legislative considerations.”

But he added that there were “inherent physical differences” between females and males. He noted that while Pepper-Jackson was able to take puberty-blocking medication, some transgender girls may not take those medications or start the medication until after they have completed puberty.

“While some females may be able to outperform some males, it is generally accepted that, on average, males outperform females athletically because of inherent physical differences between the sexes,” he wrote. “This is not an overbroad generalization, but rather a general principle that realistically reflects the average physical differences between the sexes.”

West Virginia is one of a number of states that have enacted or introduced restrictions on transgender athletes, including Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina and Mississippi.


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