WASHINGTON, D.C. –  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals voted to block a West Virginia law banning transgender student-athletes from playing on teams consistent with their gender identity, finding the law violates the rights of transgender students under Title IX.

The challenge against the law was filed on behalf of B.P.J., a 13-year-old transgender girl and middle school track athlete. In today’s ruling, Judge Toby Heytens wrote “offering B.P.J. a ‘choice’ between not participating in sports and participating only on boys teams is no real choice at all. The defendants cannot expect that B.P.J. will 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 introducing herself to teammates, coaches, and even opponents as a boy.”

“This is a tremendous victory for our client, transgender West Virginians, and the freedom of all youth to play as who they are,” said Joshua Block, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “It also continues a string of federal courts ruling against bans on the participation of transgender athletes and in favor of their equal participation as the gender they know themselves to be. This case is fundamentally about the equality of transgender youth in our schools and our communities and we’re thankful the Fourth Circuit agreed.” 

“As the Fourth Circuit made clear in this ruling, West Virginia’s effort to ban one 13-year-old transgender girl from joining her teammates on the middle school cross country and track team was singling out Becky for disparate treatment because of her sex,” Lambda Legal Staff Attorney for Youth Sruti Swaminathan said. “That’s discrimination pure and simple, and we applaud the court for arriving at this just decision.” 

“We hope today’s ruling sends a message of hope to the trans youth of West Virginia,” said Aubrey Sparks, Legal Director of the ACLU of West Virginia, “and a message of warning to politicians who continue to dehumanize this vulnerable population. 

In April 2021, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice signed HB 3293 into law, barring transgender student-athletes from participating on the school athletic teams most consistent with their gender identity. In May 2021, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of West Virginia, and Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit challenging the law on behalf of Becky Pepper Jackson, a 12-year-old girl who would be kicked off her middle school’s track and field team if the law were enforced. 

In February 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit blocked the state’s effort to kick Becky off the team as the legal advocates appealed a lower court ruling upholding the 2021 ban. 

In a March 9, 2023 filing, Attorney General Patrick Morrissey asked the Supreme Court for an emergency motion allowing the state to enforce HB 3293 and kick Becky off her middle school’s track and field team. The Court rejected this first attempt in April 2023. 

West Virginia is one of 21 states that have banned transgender student-athletes in just the last three years as part of an escalating wave of state-level restrictions on the rights of transgender people. A similar federal lawsuit is pending in Idaho. 

Today’s ruling can be found here.

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B.P.J. v. West Virginia State Board of Education