Federal judge grants injunction in lawsuit involving transgender Bridgeport student-athlete

West Virginia

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. – An 11-year-old transgender student-athlete from Bridgeport has gained an early victory in a federal lawsuit filed against state and local education officials over the state’s law banning transgender athletes from competing in female sports.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin granted the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction, meaning that while the suit, on behalf of Becky Pepper-Jackson, continues, the state cannot enforce the law and Pepper-Jackson will be allowed to sign up for school athletics, as any girl would.

Pepper-Jackson was hoping to join the school’s cross country and track and field teams.

“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. “It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”

Judge Goodwin wrote that he has “been provided with scant evidence that this law addresses any problem at all, let alone an important problem” and that “this law both stigmatizes and isolates” Pepper-Jackson and that she “will be irreparably harmed if this law were to take full effect.”

Goodwin also found that there is a likelihood that the suit will be successful in its claim that the law violates the Equal Protection Clause and Title IX.

It is clearly in the public interest to uphold B.P.J.’s constitutional right to not
be treated any differently than her similarly situated peers because any harm to
B.P.J.’s personal rights is a harm to the share of American rights that we all hold
collectively. The right not to be discriminated against by the government belongs to
all of us in equal measure. It is that communal and shared ownership of freedom that
makes up the American ideal. The American ideal is one “that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.” Let America be America Again,
Langston Hughes.

A portion of Judge Goodwin’s opinion

A decision on whether the law is unconstitutional or not, will be resolved at a later stage of litigation, Judge Goodwin wrote.

The judge’s full opinion can be read here.

The groups that filed the suit on behalf of Pepper-Jackson each issued statements Wednesday:

“This is great news for Becky, and while our work is not done yet, today’s ruling jibes with similar rulings in other courts across the country,” said Avatara Smith-Carrington, Tyron Garner Memorial Law Fellow, Lambda Legal. “It is our hope that courts recognize and address discrimination when they see it, and nowhere is it more visible than in these stark attacks against trans youth.”

“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.

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