“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,” Pepper-Jackson said in a press release. She added that it “hurt” that the state would “try to block me from pursuing my dreams.” Becky’s bravery brings to mind another openly trans young person, 10-year-old Kai Shappley, who bravely spoke at the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs. Both girls are inspirations—and they also both shouldn’t have to worry about what adults are doing. And they especially shouldn’t have to be exposed to hate, exclusion, and discrimination when they’re literally trying to enjoy their childhoods.
U.S. Circuit Judge Joseph R. Goodwin halted enforcement of the law, which was signed by Republican Gov. Jim Justice in April, by issuing a temporary injunction, which is why Pepper-Jackson will be allowed to try out for and participate in the girls’ team at least as long as the case is ongoing in the legal system. Goodwin wrote in part, “Forcing a girl to compete on the boys’ team when there is a girls’ team available would cause her unnecessary distress and stigma.”
“I have been provided scant evidence that this law addresses any problem at all,” Goodwin wrote in part in his 15-page order. “Let alone an important problem.” He added that “When the government distinguishes between different groups of people, those distinctions must be supported by compelling reasons.”
Goodwin also brought up the point that allowing Pepper-Jackson to participate on the girls’ team was not taking an opportunity from any other girl, including cisgender girls. Pepper-Jackson, he wrote, “is the only transgender student at her school interested in school-sponsored athletics. Therefore, I cannot find that permitting B.P.J. to participate on the girls’ cross country and track teams would significantly, if at all, prevent other girls from participating.”
As some context, the principal of Bridgeport Middle School (where Pepper-Jackson will be attending school) initially told her parents the law would stop her from participating in the girls’ team this year, as the ban took effect as of July 1.
Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Cooley LLP filed the lawsuit challenging the anti-trans ban on behalf of Pepper-Jackson. The suit was filed against the Harrison County Board of Education and Harrison County Superintendent Dora Stutler, as well as the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, state schools Superintendent Clayton Burch, and, lastly, the state Board of Education.
“It is our hope that courts recognize and address discrimination when they see it,” Avatara Smith-Carrington of Lambda Legal said in a statement. “And nowhere is it more visible than in these stark attacks against trans youth.”
As of now, Montana, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi have signed anti-trans sports bills into law this year alone.