Federal Appeals Court Blocks West Virginia Law Banning Transgender Athletes from Girls' Sports

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that West Virginia's ban on transgender girls in girls' sports violates Title IX, a victory for 13-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson and transgender youth, though the law is not entirely overturned.

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Mahnoor Jehangir
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Federal Appeals Court Blocks West Virginia Law Banning Transgender Athletes from Girls' Sports

Federal Appeals Court Blocks West Virginia Law Banning Transgender Athletes from Girls' Sports

In a 2-1 decision, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that West Virginia's law prohibiting transgender girls from participating in girls' sports teams violates Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans sex-based discrimination in schools. The court found that the law cannot be applied to a 13-year-old transgender girl who has been taking puberty-blocking medication and publicly identifying as a girl since third grade.

The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), its West Virginia chapter, and LGBTQ interest group Lambda Legal on behalf of Becky Pepper-Jackson, the transgender middle school student who wanted to run on the girls' cross-country and track teams at her school. The court said the state cannot expect Pepper-Jackson to "countermand her social transition, her medical treatment, and all the work she has done with her schools, teachers, and coaches for nearly half her life" by forcing her to compete on boys' teams.

Why this matters: This ruling is part of the ongoing legislative and legal battles over the role of transgender people in U.S. public life, with most Republican-controlled states passing restrictions on transgender participation in sports and gender-affirming healthcare for minors.

While the appeals court's decision makes clear that the law is discriminatory when applied to Pepper-Jackson, it did not overturn the law entirely. The state can still establish separate sports teams for boys and girls. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican, expressed disappointment in the ruling and vowed to keep fighting to defend the law, which he believes complies with Title IX.

The ACLU hailed the court's decision as a "tremendous victory" for Pepper-Jackson and transgender youth in West Virginia. "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."

Key Takeaways

  • Appeals court ruled WV's transgender sports ban violates Title IX
  • Ruling applies to 13-year-old trans girl taking puberty blockers
  • ACLU, Lambda Legal sued on behalf of trans student Becky Pepper-Jackson
  • Court said state can't force Pepper-Jackson to compete on boys' teams
  • WV AG vowed to keep fighting to defend the law, despite ruling