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Court Upholds Law Excluding Male-to-Female Transgender Athletes from Girls' Sports

"The state is permitted to legislate sports rules on this basis because sex, and the physical characteristics that flow from it, are substantially related to athletic performance and fairness in sports."


From today's decision by Judge Joseph Goodwin (S.D. W. Va.) in B.P.J. v. W. Va. State Bd. of Ed.:

West Virginia passed a law that defines "girl" and "woman," for the purpose of secondary school sports, as biologically female. Under the law, all biological males, including those who identify as transgender girls, are ineligible for participation on girls' sports teams. B.P.J., a transgender girl who wants to play girls' sports, challenges the law. The question before the court is whether the legislature's chosen definition of "girl" and "woman" in this context is constitutionally permissible. I find that it is.

The court applied intermediate scrutiny (since, whatever one's views of transgender rights questions, the law classifies people by sex, and sex classifications have generally been held to require such scrutiny). It reasoned, among other things:

Whether a person has male or female sex chromosomes determines many of the physical characteristics relevant to athletic performance. Those with male chromosomes, regardless of their gender identity, naturally undergo male puberty, resulting in an increase in testosterone in the body. B.P.J. herself recognizes that "[t]here is a medical consensus that the largest known biological cause of average differences in athletic performance between [males and females] is circulating testosterone beginning with puberty."

While some females may be able to outperform some males, it is generally accepted that, on average, males outperform females athletically because of inherent physical differences between the sexes. This is not an overbroad generalization, but rather a general principle that realistically reflects the average physical differences between the sexes. Given B.P.J.'s concession that circulating testosterone in males creates a biological difference in athletic performance, I do not see how I could find that the state's classification based on biological sex is not substantially related to its interest in providing equal athletic opportunities for females….

While [some transgender girls may take puberty blockers and thus not gain the physical characteristics typical of males during and after puberty], other transgender girls may not take those medications. They may not even come to realize or accept that they are transgender until after they have completed male puberty. Even if a transgender girl wanted to receive hormone therapy, she may have difficulty accessing those treatment options depending on her age and the state where she lives. And, as evidenced by the thousands of pages filed by the parties in this case, there is much debate over whether and to what extent hormone therapies after puberty can reduce a transgender girl's athletic advantage over cisgender girls. Additionally, of course, there is no requirement that a transgender person take any specific medications or undergo hormone therapy before or after puberty. A transgender person may choose to only transition socially, rather than medically. In other words, the social, medical, and physical transition of each transgender person is unique.

The fact is, however, that a transgender girl is biologically male and, barring medical intervention, would undergo male puberty like other biological males. And biological males generally outperform females athletically. The state is permitted to legislate sports rules on this basis because sex, and the physical characteristics that flow from it, are substantially related to athletic performance and fairness in sports.

Could the state be more inclusive and adopt a different policy, as B.P.J. suggests, which would allow transgender individuals to play on the team with which they, as an individual, are most similarly situated at a given time? Of course. But it is not for the court to impose such a requirement here.

Sex-based classifications fall under intermediate scrutiny and therefore do not have a "narrowly-tailored" requirement. As intervenor, Lainey Armistead, points out, "[s]ome boys run slower than the average girl … [and] [s]ome boys have circulating testosterone levels similar to the average girl because of medical conditions or medical interventions," but B.P.J. denies that the latter "would be similarly situated [to cisgender girls] for purposes of Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause," and does not argue that they should be allowed to play on girls' teams. This is inconsistent with her argument that the availability of hormone therapies makes transgender girls similarly situated to cisgender girls. In fact, after reviewing all of the evidence in the record, including B.P.J.'s telling responses to requests for admission, it appears that B.P.J. really argues that transgender girls are similarly situated to cisgender girls for purposes of athletics at the moment they verbalize their transgender status, regardless of their hormone levels.

The legislature's definition of "girl" as being based on "biological sex" is substantially related to the important government interest of providing equal athletic opportunities for females….