Civil Rights Advocates Bring Federal Court Challenge to West Virginia Law Banning Trans Students in School Sports

May 26, 2021 2:30 pm

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A lawsuit challenging West Virginia’s new law banning girls and women who are transgender from participating in school sports was filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU West Virginia, Lambda Legal, and Cooley LLP.

The lawsuit is brought by and on behalf of 11-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson. Pepper-Jackson comes from a family of avid runners and was looking forward to trying out for the girls’ cross-country team as she prepared to start middle school when Gov. Jim Justice signed HB 3293 into law. In elementary school, Pepper-Jackson was a member of the cheer team for the local youth football league.

“I just want to run, I come from a family of runners,” said Pepper-Jackson. “I know how hurtful a law like this is to all kids like me who just want to play sports with their classmates, and I’m doing this for them. Trans kids deserve better.”

HB 3293 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.

“We told lawmakers around the country that we would see them in court if they passed legislation attacking trans youth, and today we are making good on that promise,” said Joshua Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “Transgender youth in West Virginia who want to be on a team and challenge themselves should have the opportunity to do so, just like any other student.”

“Countless studies have shown the beneficial impact participating in team sports has for kids growing up,” said Avatara Smith-Carrington, Tyron Garner Memorial Law Fellow, Lambda Legal. “For trans kids, this is even more true. Becky just wants to play, to run with her classmates, to be a kid. We joined the ACLU in warning what would happen if states passed these hateful discriminatory laws, and here we are today.”

“As we’ve said since HB 3293 was introduced, this legislation is not only cruel and stigmatizing — it’s unconstitutional,” said ACLU-WV Legal Director Loree Stark.

“We look forward to showing in court that this law should be enjoined as unlawful and that Becky should have the same opportunity to play sports as any other child,” said Kathleen Hartnett of Cooley LLP.

The case was filed by Lambda Legal, the ACLU Jon L. Stryker and Slobodan Randjelović LGBTQ & HIV Project, ACLU-WV, and law firm Cooley LLP in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and everyone living with HIV through impact litigation, education and policy work.

The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia (ACLU-WV) is a non-partisan, non-profit membership organization whose mission is to fulfill the promise of the Bill of Rights for all West Virginians and expand the reach of its guarantees to new areas.

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