Curtis Tate Published

Federal Court Rejects State Transgender Student Athlete Ban

A soccer player readies to kick a ball across the field.Hero Images/Getty Images

A federal appeals court struck down West Virginia’s ban on transgender student participation in school sports Tuesday.

The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, said the 2021 law violated Title IX, the landmark 1972 law that enshrined gender equality in school sports.

The ACLU and Lambda Legal, a national LGBTQ rights law firm, brought the case on behalf of a 13-year-old middle school student in Harrison County who wanted to run on her track team.

“The ruling makes clear that the law is discriminatory,” said Billy Wolfe, an ACLU-WV spokesman, in an email. The student, Becky Pepper-Jackson, is the only one affected by the ruling, Wolfe said, but encouraged others who might be affected to contact the ACLU.

The 2-1 decision, for now, invalidates House Bill 3293, which the legislature enacted and Gov. Jim Justice signed. 

Last year, a U.S. district judge upheld the enforcement of the law, but the Fourth Circuit overruled that decision.

In an emergency appeal last year, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey asked the U.S. Supreme Court to allow the state to enforce the law while the Fourth Circuit considered the case. The justices declined.

In a statement Tuesday, Morrisey said he would continue to defend the law.

West Virginia is one of 21 states that have enacted some type of restriction on transgender student participation in school sports.

In 2020, the Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of a Virginia transgender boy who challenged his school’s refusal to let him use the bathroom that matched his gender identity.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal in that case as well.

In Tuesday’s ruling, one of the three judges, G. Steven Agee, dissented. He was nominated by President George W. Bush to the court in 2008.