A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked West Virginia from barring a transgender girl from her school’s sports teams, effectively saying the state’s discriminatory law passed earlier this year was unenforceable.
U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin issued a preliminary injunction, saying 11-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson should be allowed to participate on her school’s girls cross country team while the case is pending. The lawsuit was filed shortly after West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) signed the anti-trans sports bill into law in April, which bars transgender girls from competing on sports teams at public middle schools and high schools or at state universities. At the time, Justice said it was the “right thing to do.”
The judge for the Southern District of West Virginia rejected that notion, saying the law likely violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the government’s Title IX requirements.
“A fear of the unknown and discomfort with the unfamiliar have motivated many of the most malignant harms committed by our country’s governments on their own citizens,” Goodwin wrote in his decision. “Out of fear of those less like them, the powerful have made laws that restricted who could attend what schools, who could work certain jobs, who could marry whom, and even how people can practice their religions.”
He added: “I have been provided with scant evidence that this law addresses any problem at all, let alone an important problem.”
His ruling Wednesday only extends to Pepper-Jackson’s case, but the judge left the door open to protecting other student athletes as the suit moves forward. The girl’s legal team had asked for a temporary injunction because cross country training begins this month at her school, Politico noted.
Pepper-Jackson said Wednesday she was excited about the ruling, which was hailed by human rights groups who noted similar Republican-led bills have been held up in Idaho and Connecticut.
“I am excited to know that I will be able to try out for the girls’ cross-country team and follow in the running shoes of my family,” she said in a statement. “It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”
Republicans nationwide have introduced a raft of legislation meant to rein in the rights of transgender youth. The bills — at least 19 of which have already passed — mainly focus on two efforts: barring trans kids from competing on school sports teams or limiting medically necessary health care.
The measures rely largely on conservative dog whistles about transgender people, despite a bevy of studies showing access to medical care is an essential need for trans youth. Leading pediatrics groups have lambasted the GOP efforts as harmful to children, saying the bills largely rely on misinformation and negative tropes.
The judge wrote Wednesday that such efforts appeared to be an infringement on all Americans’ rights, citing poet Langston Hughes in his decision.
“It is clearly in the public interest to uphold [the plaintiff’s] constitutional right to not be treated any differently than her similarly situated peers because any harm to [her] personal rights is a harm to the share of American rights that we all hold collectively,” Goodwin wrote.
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