Jan. 6 (UPI) — A U.S. district judge said Thursday that West Virginia can restrict transgender girls from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity.
Southern District of West Virginia Judge Joseph R. Goodwin ruled in favor of the state following a challenge from the parents of 11-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson, a transgender girl who was blocked from joining her middle school’s female track and cross-country teams under state law.
Goodwin wrote that male or female sex chromosomes determine “many of the physical characteristics relevant to athletic performance” and although Pepper-Jackson had already begun taking puberty-blocking medication other transgender athletes may not begin to do so before completing puberty.
Attorneys for Pepper-Jackson, argued West Virginia’s law, which defined “girl” and “woman” as biologically female for the purpose of school sports and barred transgender girls from participating on girls’ sports teams, discriminated against the student in violation of the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause and Title IX.
They added that the law was “targeted at and intended only to affect, girls who are transgender.”
The state countered that the law about fairness to biological girls and women.
“This is not only about simple biology, but fairness for women’s sports, plain and simple,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in a statement. “Opportunities for girls and women on the field are precious and we must safeguard that future. Protecting these opportunities is important because when biological males compete in a women’s event women and girls lose their opportunity to shine.”
Goodwin, who had initially blocked the law from going into effect in July 2021, agreed that the law did seek to prevent transgender girls from participating on girls’ sports teams, but ultimately ruled it was not unconstitutional.
“Acting to prevent transgender girls, along with all other biological males, from playing on girls’ teams is not unconstitutional if the classification is substantially related to an important government interest,” Goodwin wrote.
West Virginia is one of several states that places restrictions on transgender athletes, including Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina and Mississippi.