12-year-old transgender student athlete fights West Virginia's proposed anti-trans sports ban

Signed in 2021, the law prohibits transgender women and girls from participating in public school sports

ByDevan Cole, CNNWire
Monday, March 20, 2023
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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A transgender student athlete challenging West Virginia's anti-trans sports ban is urging the Supreme Court to not step into the dispute after the state asked the high court to let it enforce the controversial law.

Earlier this month, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican, filed an emergency request to the court, asking it to wipe away a lower court decision so it could enforce the ban. Signed in 2021, the law prohibits transgender women and girls from participating in public school sports.

Lawyers for the law's challenger, 12-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson, argued in court papers filed Monday that the state's claim that it's being harmed by the appellate court's preliminary injunction against the law is unfounded.

"In short, the Application does not come close to the type of urgent and compelling circumstances required for extraordinary relief from this Court," they wrote. "There is no basis for this Court to order B.P.J. off the playing field where she has been for her entire middle school career to date and where her presence harms no one."

Pepper-Jackson has been able to compete on her middle school's cross-country and track teams as a result of the lower court's injunction.

"Not only would staying the Fourth Circuit's injunction cause B.P.J. to lose her 'second family,' but it would also cause her to lose all the other benefits and life-lessons that participation in school sports indisputably brings," they wrote.

"This as-applied challenge is about a child who simply wants to play on her middle school team with her friends without harming anyone, as she has done for over a year and a half. As the District Court acknowledged, it is in the public interest that 'all children who seek to participate in athletics have a genuine opportunity to do so,'" the filing said.

Morrisey, a Republican, defended the law in a statement to CNN later Monday, saying: "Our case is simple: It's about protecting opportunities for women and girls in sports."

The ban "was designed to maintain the integrity of girls' and women's sports in both secondary and postsecondary public schools," the attorney general said, ignoring the fact that the law is exclusionary of certain girls and women.

West Virginia's emergency request gives the Supreme Court a chance to weigh in on a hot-button issue that has taken center stage in recent years as Republican-led states have moved to impose restrictions on the lives of trans youth, with a particular focus on school sports.

A number of GOP-controlled states have enacted similar sports bans in recent years, with at least eight putting one on their books in 2022 alone. In pushing such measures, conservatives have argued that transgender women and girls have physical advantages over cisgender women and girls in sports, though a 2017 report found "no direct or consistent research" on any such advantage.