CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP/WBOY) — Transgender athletes in West Virginia can compete in female school sports while an appeal is heard on a state law banning their participation, a divided federal appeals panel ruled Wednesday.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to reinstate a preliminary injunction, sought by the American Civil Liberties Union. The 2021 law signed by Republican Gov. Jim Justice (R) applies to middle and high schools, as well as colleges.

Last month a federal judge dissolved the preliminary injunction, which he had issued in July 2021. The judge also ruled the law did not violate Title IX, the landmark gender equity legislation of 1972.

Judge Joseph Goodwin wrote in his opinion,

As for Title IX, which authorizes sex-separate sports, “[t]here is no serious debate that [its] endorsement . . . refers to biological sex.” Id. at 21–22. Like the alleged interest put forth by the state in this case, the goal of Title IX “was to increase opportunities for women and girls in athletics.” Id. at 21 (citing Williams v. Sch. Dist. of Bethlehem, Pa., 998 F.2d 168, 175 (3d Cir. 1993)). Thus, I could not, and still cannot, find that the Act, “which largely mirrors Title IX, violates Title IX.” Id. at 22.

The ACLU and its West Virginia chapter filed suit on behalf of an 11-year-old transgender girl who hoped to compete on Bridgeport Middle School’s cross-country team. The lawsuit named the state and Harrison County boards of education and their superintendents as defendants.

More than a dozen states have passed laws banning or restricting transgender athletes’ participation in sports based on the premise that they have an unfair competitive advantage, despite a lack of widespread cases.

The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, which oversees scholastic sports, said when the suit was filed that it had not received any complaints about transgender athletes on girls’ teams.

A 2017 study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law used state-level, population-based surveys to estimate that West Virginia had the highest percentage (1.04%) of residents ages 13 to 17 who identified as transgender. That equated to about 1,150 teens in all.