West Virginia teen appears in court in bid to overturn state trans sports ban

Stock image of a trans flag waving in the wind

A 13-year-old transgender girl appeared in a West Virginia court last week in a push to overturn a state-wide ban on trans students participating in sports that align with their gender.

Becky Pepper-Jackson has been engaged in a two-year legal battle, with the help of her mum Heather and the ACLU, to try and shut down a bill that bars transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams from middle school through college.

The bill, signed by Governor Jim Justice in 2021, called the Save Women’s Sports Act would prevent Pepper-Jackson from running on the girls’ cross-country and track teams at her middle school because she is transgender.

West Virginia: 11-year-old girl challenges transphobic school sports ban
Becky Pepper-Jackson comes from a family of avid runners. (ACLU)

At the time of signing, Justice argued that trans-student-athletes were at an unfair advantage – though he could not name one example of this occurring when questioned by MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle.

Pepper-Jackson appeared at West Virginia’s 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday (27 October) and listened while lawyers argued back and forth over whether or not the bill could take effect.

For now, the middle school student is still running on her school’s cross country team and throwing shot put and discus on the school’s track and field team, thanks to an injunction on the trans sports ban.

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Despite an appeal filed by West Virginia, the state’s Supreme Court ruled in April that the ban cannot be used against Becky Pepper-Jackson while legal action is ongoing.

Commenting on Pepper-Jackson’s participation in her school’s female sports teams while she engages in a lengthy lawsuit, her mum Heather told NBC News: “At school, her friends still treat her exactly the same, her teachers treat her exactly the same. 

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“She’s just a regular kid that just wants to play, so that hasn’t changed at all.”

Jim Justice gestures with his hand in a white suit, pink shirt and pink tie outside
West Virginia governor and business mogul Jim Justice signed the trans sports ban in 2021. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Ahead of Friday’s court hearing, Heather added: “I’m nervous for her, because I know what joy she gets from doing her sports, and every kid needs sports.

“It’s just a moral foundation they need to get. They learn responsibility, they learn camaraderie, and they learn that people depend on them. And I see how much fun she has.”

At Friday’s hearing, Lambda Legal and the ACLU, who are representing Becky Pepper-Jackson, argued that the Save Women’s Sports Act was discriminatory and violates federal and state law.

Joshua Block of the ACLU noted that Pepper-Jackson could not be put at any sort of physical advantage over her cis-gender female teammates and opponents, because she has received puberty-blocking medication, preventing her from going through a testosterone-fuelled puberty, NBC News reports.

Block argued in court that West Virginia’s law “could have been drafted to actually adopt criteria that are relevant to athletic performance,” but instead, “it goes out of its way” to focus on criteria that would “exclude transgender students based on their transgender status.”

Unfortunately, Pepper-Jackson’s legal journey is far from over, with Block estimating that the court could take anywhere from three to six months before a ruling.

Even when the court does rule, it was widely acknowledged that either party was likely to appeal the decision, and it was only a matter of time before the case was taken to the Supreme Court.

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runner anti trans sports bill west virginia
The law would ban trans student-athletes from school sports teams that align with their gender. (Pexels)

At Friday’s hearing, Judge G. Steven Agee said: “I want to thank all counsel for their arguments today, realizing we’re probably only a waystation on the way to the Supreme Court.”

Still, Becky and her legal team aren’t interested in backing down. As her mum Heather says, this case is too important not to pursue.

“Politicians are out there fighting for votes, and they just jump on a bandwagon without ever researching it for themselves, when if people would just do their own research, the biology, and the science is out there to prove what we’re looking for,” said Heather.

“We just want to be accepted, and she just wants to be a kid. It shouldn’t be that hard to be a kid.”

West Virginia is one of 23 US states that has passed restrictions on trans student-athletes in the past three years. While some states have gone ahead with the bans, others, like West Virginia have been blocked from enforcing their bans.

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