Young transgender athletes caught in middle of states’ debates

BECKY PEPPER-JACKSON slides her toes into her running shoes as the sun sets behind the Appalachian Mountains. She likes to run at the end of the day, when the summer heat has broken and she’s done with her chores. The 11-year-old and her family live on three acres of land outside Bridgeport, West Virginia, a town with fewer than 10,000 people about halfway between Charleston, the state’s capital, and Pittsburgh.

Every morning, Becky has to let the chickens out and fill up the water bucket. “Which half the time ends in a hose fight, by the way,” Becky’s mother, Heather, says.

On this particular July evening, Becky climbs into the family car with her mom, her dad and an older brother to drive to their favorite running spot. The road they live on is too busy, so they drive to a cross street where the cows far outnumber the cars.

“The cars that do come, they can see you from a mile away,” Heather says. “Literally.”

Becky has been logging miles with her mom since Heather pushed her around in a stroller. Now they run a mile through the rolling hills most every evening. Sometimes when they run, they also count. Math is Becky’s favorite subject, so Heather incorporates it where she can. “We do counts while we’re running,” Heather says. Sometimes they count the number of breaths between foot falls. And then to make it interesting, Heather turns it into a story problem. “Like if we take 47 more steps, how many breaths do we need to take in order to stay on our program?”

All of this running has put Becky in position to make the cross country team at her middle school. As a sixth-grader, this is her first chance to run competitively for her school. “It’s the first chance to do any organized sports other than cheer,” Heather says.

Cross country was the obvious choice. “The reason why I love it so much is because my whole family has always done it,” Becky says.

But the path for Becky to run competitively was almost blocked in the spring of 2021 when West Virginia passed HB 3293 — a law that prevents transgender girls from competing in girls’ and women’s sports.

West Virginia is one of seven states that, during the 2021 legislative session, passed a law that restricts transgender athletes’ access to sports; nearly three dozen states in all introduced bills seeking to do the same. As a new school year begins and youth sports regain a foothold after pandemic precautions, transgender kids in the United States are stuck in the middle of the ongoing and often ugly battle over science and assumption, sex and gender identity, politics and policy. Stephanie is a 9-year-old soccer player. Kris Wilka is a 13-year-old football player. They’re not Olympians or NCAA stars. They’re not even high school students. They are kids who just want to play.

“Becky is just like every other 11-year-old girl,” Heather says. “Transgender people are just like everybody else. They’re all normal.”

So, Heather sued.

Policies all over the map

TITLE IX BARS discrimination “on the basis of sex” in educational programs receiving federal funds, including athletics, and it is at the heart of this debate. The interpretation of how Title IX either applies, or doesn’t, to transgender athletes’ participation in sports has been the focus of a partisan tug-of-war during the past three presidential administrations.

When the Obama administration issued formal guidance in the spring of 2016 through the departments of Justice and Education that mandated transgender inclusion in schools, 23 states sued. And when the Trump administration took over in 2017, that guidance was formally rescinded and the lawsuits were dropped.

As the Biden administration has made its picks for leadership in the Department of Education, inclusion of transgender students has been front and center. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has made the federal position clear. “Transgender athletes are students first and foremost, and they deserve every right that every other student gets,” he said in an interview with ESPN’s Paula Lavigne in June. “That means access to extracurricular activities, be it theater, sports. It doesn’t matter.”

Without formal federal policy, opportunities for children like Becky Pepper-Jackson are often determined by where they live. While nine states have laws that restrict transgender athletes’ participation, athletic eligibility for transgender youth typically is determined by the policy of each state’s high school association, creating patchwork policies across the country. Not to mention confusion.

“They’re trying to put legislative momentum behind a problem that really doesn’t exist.”Karissa Niehoff

In Connecticut, for example, transgender students may compete in accordance with their gender identity without requiring medical steps. In Kentucky, transgender students may compete in accordance with their gender identity if they never went through puberty associated with their sex assigned at birth — commonly referred to as endogenous puberty. If they started puberty, they need to have been on hormone therapy for “a sufficient length of time” and have undergone surgery. Otherwise, their birth certificate determines in which category they can participate.

Most of the state associations fall somewhere in between, employing committees to review documentation, or having different rules for transgender boys and transgender girls — not addressing the fact that some students are nonbinary or more fluid with their gender identities. Iowa has two associations — one for boys and one for girls. In the boys association, transgender boys may participate without restriction. The girls association suggests inclusion for transgender girls, but ultimately each school makes a determination.

Sometimes the state associations sit on the sideline. In Georgia, the school decides who can participate where, so if a school says a transgender athlete can play in a category consistent with their gender identity, the association says it would allow that to happen. In Alaska, policies are set at the school level as well, but if a school has no policy, then a student’s birth certificate is used.

But what was once the domain of the state associations has been making its way to statehouses.

In addition to West Virginia, lawmakers in Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi and Montana enacted laws restricting transgender athletes in 2021. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed two executive orders containing similar restrictions for transgender girls in sports at the scholastic and collegiate levels. Those eight states joined Idaho, which was the first state to pass such a law in 2020.

Idaho’s law hasn’t yet gone into effect because a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction on Aug. 17, 2020. Becky and Heather also won a preliminary injunction in West Virginia that allowed Becky to try out for her school’s cross country team this fall.

In West Virginia, Judge Joseph Goodwin pointed to the likelihood of Pepper-Jackson and her lawyers’ eventual success in arguing that HB 3293 is unconstitutional and violates her rights under Title IX.

“At this point, I have been provided with scant evidence that this law addresses any problem at all, let alone an important problem,” Goodwin wrote in the ruling.

Which raises the question, why are so many of these bills being filed, and, in some cases, becoming law?

The origin story

WHEN THE REFEREE raised Mack Beggs’ right arm in 2017 to signify the new Texas girls’ state wrestling champion, eyebrows raised across the country. Beggs, a transgender boy, was unable to compete in the boys division under Texas policy.

Then, transgender sprinters Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood finished first and second in Connecticut’s 2018 outdoor and 2019 indoor girls’ state track championships.

Next came a Title IX complaint and a lawsuit filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of a handful of cisgender girls in Connecticut. While these teenagers were far from the first transgender athletes to participate in sports — Renée Richards successfully sued the United States Tennis Association to earn the right to play in the US Open in 1977 and Kye Allums became the first openly transgender person to participate in NCAA Division I athletics in 2010 — their successes drew national attention to transgender athletes’ participation at the youth level.

Idaho Rep. Barbara Ehardt was watching. The former women’s basketball coach at Cal State Fullerton was concerned that the inclusion of transgender athletes in girls’ and women’s sports was unfair, so she decided to pursue legislation in Idaho. She reached out to ADF for guidance as she worked on the bill. “[ADF] had no legislation,” Ehardt says. “This all started with me.”

HB500 was introduced in Idaho on Feb. 13, 2020, the day after ADF announced a federal lawsuit against the Connecticut high school association on the steps of the state’s capitol.

In the 18 months since, bills with names like “Fairness in Women’s Sports” and “Save Women’s Sports” have popped up across the country.

“What these do is it makes sure that when it comes to the women’s category in particular, that it’s reserved for biological females while still enabling any student to participate on the men’s division and category,” says Matt Sharp, senior counsel for the ADF, an organization whose stated mission is to protect religious freedom, free speech, marriage and family, parental rights and the sanctity of life.

ADF, which is categorized as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, provided guidance on many of the bills filed in 2021. “I don’t know that we were involved in all of them, but I know several of those we had been consulted on and reached out to by the sponsor asking for our expertise and legal expertise and guidance,” Sharp says.

But Karissa Niehoff, the executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), isn’t clear on what all the fuss is about.

“They’re trying to put legislative momentum behind a problem that really doesn’t exist,” Niehoff says.

This year, NFHS conducted an informal survey to see how many transgender athletes were competing across the country. “It was very, very few,” she says.

There is no data available that provides an exact number of transgender students in high school, let alone transgender student-athletes. There are approximately 15 million high school students in the United States, and approximately 8 million of them participate in high school sports. A CDC study published in 2019 estimated that 1.8 percent of high school students are transgender, meaning there are roughly 270,000 transgender students in U.S. high schools. But a report by the Human Rights Campaign found that only 14% of transgender boys and 12% of transgender girls play sports. Given all of those numbers, it’s statistically possible that there are some 35,000 transgender student-athletes in high school, which would mean 0.44% of high school athletes are transgender.

Even as a fraction of the athlete population, that’s still considerably more transgender young people playing sports than have made headlines. That’s because the overwhelming majority of them don’t win championships. Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) executive director Glenn Lungarini saw that phenomenon up close in his conversations with parents in the state.

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Pediatricians sue Biden over transgender mandate for children

WASHINGTON (WTVO) — Over 3,000 pediatricians have filed suit against the Biden administration for a health care mandate that would require medical professionals to provide gender-related services despite medical objections.

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which broadened the definition of sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity, objections to treating children with gender-related therapies would be considered discrimination.

President Biden signed an Executive Order that required Section 1157 and Title IX be interpreted to include gender identity as a protected trait.

“The American College of Pediatricians, the Catholic Medical Association, and an OB-GYN doctor who specializes in caring for adolescents filed suit in federal court to challenge a Biden administration mandate requiring doctors to perform gender transition procedures on any patient, including a child, if the procedure violates a doctor’s medical judgment or religious beliefs,” the Alliance Defending Freedom said in a press release.

“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reinterpreted non-discrimination on the basis of sex in the Affordable Care Act to include gender identity and thus require gender transition interventions, services, surgeries, and drugs on demand, even for children, no matter a doctor’s medical judgment, religious beliefs, or conscientious objection,” the release continued.

“Forcing doctors to prescribe transition hormones for 13-year-olds or perform life-altering surgeries on adolescents is unlawful, unethical, and dangerous,” said ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Bangert.

“Doctors should never be forced to perform a controversial and often medically dangerous procedure that goes against their best judgment, their conscience, or their religion, especially when it involves vulnerable children experiencing mental and emotional confusion,” said ADF Senior Counsel Julie Marie Blake.

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Teachers against Loudoun Co. schools’ transgender policy want to halt enforcement during litigation

Lawyers for teachers who have filed a lawsuit against the Loudoun County, Virginia, school board over its new policies regarding transgender students want enforcement of the policy to be suspended while the suit moves forward.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a motion Friday for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction so the teachers won’t be subject to the policy while the case is being litigated.

Loudoun County High School teacher Monica Gill and Smart’s Mill Middle School teacher Kim Wright are looking to join Leesburg Elementary School teacher Byron “Tanner” Cross, who was put on paid administrative leave after criticizing the then-proposed policy.

Cross has since been reinstated after a judge ruled the suspension as likely unconstitutional. School officials have appealed the judge’s ruling to the Virginia Supreme Court, which has not yet made a decision.

The school board voted earlier this month to pass the measure that would expand the rights of transgender students in the county’s schools.

It requires students and teachers to address students by their chosen pronoun, regardless of the students’ biological gender. It also allows transgender student athletes to participate on teams based on their gender identity.

Transgender students would use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity. Critics say the policy forces students and teachers to violate their beliefs.

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Biden Administration Transgender Student Back-To-School Message

In a joint video Thursday, Suzanne Goldberg, the acting assistant secretary of education for civil rights; Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke; and Dr. Rachel Levine, the assistant secretary of health and human services for health, sent a heartfelt message of support for transgender students, NBC reports.

In the video found on the DOJ youtube channel, the three outlined the federal government’s support for transgender students even as their community is under siege on the state level, where more than 130 anti-trans bills in 36 states have been introduced this year alone, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

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London LGBTQI Activists to Protest Ghana’s Hate Bill 2 pm Saturday

Ghana's transphobic bill

LGBT+ activists will be protesting Ghana’s “Family Values” bill on Saturday at 2 pm in front of the London offices of the Ghana High Commission.

The Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, introduced as a private members’ bill in Ghana’s parliament by seven opposition National Democratic Congress MPs and the deputy education minister on 2 August, is one of the most wide-reaching bills aimed at controlling human sexuality and gender identity that the world has seen, Daily Maverick reports.

The draconian bill would make it a Crime, with sentences between 3 to 10 years for anyone convicted of being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender, or Ally. The “Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill” would also punish those who advocate on social media for LGBTQI rights or fails to report to the state those who they suspect of being LGBTQI.

It also promotes so-called conversion therapy by allowing flexible sentencing for an LGBT+ person if they request “treatment”, and could enable the government to force intersex children to undergo “gender realignment” surgery, Foreign policy reports.

The 8 ministers who introduced the bill did so at the behest of a group identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the US anti-LGBT hate group “WORLD CONGRESS OF FAMILIES.”

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Transgender victory over Hobby Lobby could have national impact

An appellate court deciding Hobby Lobby violated Illinois anti-discrimination law by denying a transgender employee access to the women’s restroom could have nationwide implications, experts say.

Meggan Sommerville, a trans woman who has worked at a Hobby Lobby location in Aurora for more than 20 years, has been denied access to the store’s women’s room since transitioning at work in 2010. As a result, she has had anxiety and recurring nightmares and has been forced to limit her fluid intake, according to filings.

On Friday, the Illinois 2nd District Appellate Court upheld a lower court decision that determined the crafts chain violated the Illinois Human Rights Act both as an employer and as a place of public accommodation.

“Sommerville is female, just like the women who are permitted to use the women’s bathroom,” the three-judge panel said in its decision. “The only reason that Sommerville is barred from using the women’s bathroom is that she is a transgender woman.”

The ruling is one of first impression, meaning it presents a legal issue that has never been decided in the court’s jurisdiction.

“They stuck to the law,” Sommerville, 51, told Forbes. “This is a precedent-setting case in Illinois, because the Human Rights Act has never been tested in this way in Illinois, and actually in the country.”

Jim Bennett, director of the ​​Illinois Department of Human Rights, said the decision underscored that trans people in the state “have strong protection from discrimination.”

“Ms. Sommerville’s experience of discrimination is certainly not unique, as too many of our transgender friends and neighbors continue to face acts of discrimination and hate,” Bennett said in a statement. “With this decision, the IDHR has been given a clear path to enforce the Commission’s orders concerning the rights of trans persons.”

Jacob Meister, who represented Sommerville, went further, telling Bloomberg Law the decision had national implications and will “start the process of courts around the country addressing the issue of bathroom access.”

Camilla Taylor, litigation director for the LGBTQ legal advocacy group Lambda Legal, agrees the ruling could have a broad impact in a variety of areas and jurisdictions.

“I think other states will generally be able cite this ruling, because of how sweeping it is,” Taylor said. “This is not limited to employment. This is the public policy of the state of Illinois. The court went out of its way to knock down every justification for treating trans people differently in public. It made it clear there’s no justification.”

While the Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, determined discrimination based on sex includes sexual orientation and gender identity, it didn’t address access to sex-segregated facilities, services or sports teams.

“You can’t argue it’s not sex discrimination to deny someone access to a bathroom or a locker room,” Taylor said.

Not only could the ruling be used by opponents of so-called bathroom bills, she added, it could be relevant to the legal fight against legislation prohibiting transgender girls from playing on female sports teams.

At least nine states have enacted such sports bans, according to the Movement Advancement Project.

“It will have big ramifications in all kinds of aspects of life — in education, in business, in gyms and sports,” Taylor said. “It’s indicative of applying nondiscrimination principles to sex-segregated areas. It makes clear that gender identity determines sex.”

Hobby Lobby could appeal the ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court and theoretically take it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Attorney Whitman Brisky, who represented the company, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The 2021 legislative session has set a record for anti-transgender bills, according the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group: Nearly 70 measures were introduced in at least 30 states that would prohibit trans youth from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity, and at least 15 bills were introduced that would bar trans people from accessing the restrooms or locker rooms that align with their gender identity.

The judicial branch, however, has been more supportive: In addition to Bostock, the Supreme Court in June declined to review a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that ruled transgender student Gavin Grimm had a constitutional right to use the boys’ restroom at his Virginia school.

The lower court ruled that policies barring transgender students from restrooms that match their gender identity violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The post appeared first on NBCNEWS.

Hobby Lobby loses transgender workplace discrimination lawsuit

Lady Liberty
Lady Justice by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

On Friday, Aug. 13, an Illinois appellate court ruled that Hobby Lobby had violated Illinois anti-bias law by denying a transgender woman employee access to the women’s bathroom, as first reported by the Illinois Eagle.

According to Bloomberg Equality, the Illinois Second District Appellate Court upheld a $220,000 judgment for emotional distress and attorneys’ fees against the company. Meggan Sommerville, who is still working at Hobby Lobby, filed a complaint with the Illinois Human Rights Commission in 2013 after she was disciplined for using the women’s bathroom at the store. The commission ruled in 2019 that the company’s bathroom policy was unlawful, the website reported.

The unanimous three-judge panel rejected Hobby Lobby’s argument that a person’s sex is an immutable condition. Nothing in the Illinois Human Rights Act suggests supports the company’s argument, Justice Mary Seminara-Schostok wrote for the panel, which also included Justices Kathryn Zenoff and Ann Jorgensen.

“Sommerville is female, just like the women who are permitted to use the women’s bathroom,” the court said, according to Bloomberg Equality. “The only reason that Sommerville is barred from using the women’s bathroom is that she is a transgender woman, unlike the other women (at least, as far as Hobby Lobby knows.)”

Hobby Lobby’s attorney, Whitman Brisky of Mauck & Baker LLC, didn’t immediately respond to telephone and email requests for comment from Bloomberg Equality.

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Texas pushing to further segregate transgender student athletes

Texas lawmakers are trying to require transgender student athletes to play on school sports teams aligned with the gender assigned at or near birth. However, the University Interscholastic League that regulates school sports in the state already prevents transgender student athletes from playing on teams based on their gender identity.

Supporters of the legislation say it would protect female athletes and maintain fairness in student athletics. Critics say anti-transgender legislation discriminates against transgender Texas children. This legislation hurts their mental health, LGBTQ advocates say.

This video centers 18-year-old Eli, a transgender man who asked to be identified by his first name only out of fear of harassment and bullying. Eli was required to compete on his high school’s women’s wrestling team in Houston as his gender marker said female.

Senate Bill 29 sought to limit transgender students’ sports participation, but failed to pass earlier this year. Gov. Greg Abbott wants lawmakers to try again during their second special legislative session this summer.

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How are we different than other kids?”: A transgender student wrestler fights legislative efforts to restrict participation in school sports” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Major victory for transgender Student rights in Northern Virginia

Loudoun County School Board Votes
Supporters of the transgender student policy celebrate as the measures were approved Wednesday by the Loudoun County School Board. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

The Loudoun County School Board voted this evening to adopt transgender-inclusive policies as required by the State Board of education.

The Washington Post reports that the new guidelines, which take effect immediately, allows transgender students access to school facilities and groups, such as sports teams, that match their gender identities and require steachers to address transgender children by their names and pronouns.

The policy was approved by a 7-to-2 vote, with the board’s two conservative members — John Beatty (Catoctin) and Jeff Morse (Dulles) — opposed to it.

Louden County became a flashpoint when in May the Board suspended a teacher that refused to honor students’ authentic gender and names. The Anti-LGBT hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) took Byron Cross’ legal case which has since been appealed by the board to the Virginia State Supreme Court.

The vote had been scheduled for Tuesday’s regular Board meeting but was rescheduled for Wednesday after four hours of Testomony.

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Federal Judge Rules against Trans patients’ right to affordable Healthcare

Franciscan Physician Network
Franciscan Physicians hospitals will remain devoid of transgender patients

A Texas Federal Judge has ruled in favor of a Catholic healthcare network that refuses to provide gender-affirming care to transgender people.  The Judge found that the federal government couldn’t seek remedy against the Franciscan Physician Network for denying gender-affirming care despite an anti-bias provision in the Affordable Care Act.

As reported by Law 360 U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor on Monday granted a permanent injunction to Franciscan Alliance Inc. and other religious groups, blocking the federal government from enforcing the anti-discrimination protections in Section 1557 of the ACA against the plaintiffs or withholding funds as punishment for noncompliance.

He found the issue was not moot despite the government’s objections, issuing Monday’s order in part because he said the regulation around Section 1557 still jeopardizes the plaintiffs’ rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA.

Lindsey Kaley, a staff attorney with the ACLU Center for Liberty, said in a statement Tuesday that “gender-affirming care” saves lives. “This is a disappointing decision, but it does not change the fact that transgender people who have been turned away from health care can continue to pursue litigation. This decision only changes the federal government’s options when it proactively enforces the nondiscrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act,” she said.

LGBTQI people must keep this in mind when choosing employers and healthcare network providers. Catholic healthcare providers are celebrating their newfound power to discriminate and will gladly continue to do so in the future.

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