An 11-year-old transgender girl is suing her state after she tried to join her school’s cross-country team, but was told that a new law prohibits her from participating.
Becky Pepper-Jackson started running with her mother when she was just five-years-old. She was hoping to join the Bridgeport Middle School girls’ cross-country team in West Virginia when school reopened this year. Her two older brothers started running cross-country at the same age.
But her school principal called a meeting with her and her parents last month and told her that she could not join the girls’ team due to H.B. 3293, a bill signed by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) in April that bans transgender girls from participating in school sports as their gender.
Becky knew that she was a girl since she was four-years-old. She started presenting as a girl and going by her current name in elementary school. She also joined a cheerleading squad and loved it.
But going into middle school, she wanted to run cross-country.
“I was always like, ‘I want to run,’” she told The Lily.
The principal told her that if she wanted to run, she would have to join the boys’ team, even though she’s not a boy.
“Knowing I cannot try out for the girls’ cross-country and track teams just because I am a transgender girl is horrible and makes me feel angry and sad,” she said in a court statement. “It hurts to know that I will not be able to have a chance to run on the girls’ team like my friends can because I am a transgender girl.”
“I do not want to run with the boys and I should not have to run with the boys.”
With help from the ACLU, her family is suing the West Virginia Department of Education. In their complaint, they say that H.B. 3293 violates both the Constitution and Title IX, the federal law that bans discrimination in education on the basis of sex, which the Biden administration has said includes anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
The Supreme Court supported such reasoning last year in its Bostock v. Clayton Co. decision, where it found that it’s impossible to discrimination against LGBTQ people without taking sex assigned at birth into account.
The lawsuit also says that the transgender sports ban violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because the law amounts to discrimination without a clear state interest, since legislators’ claims that letting transgender girls play sports would lead to cisgender girls not being able to participate is unfounded.
The complaint adds that the bill is based on “unfounded stereotypes, false scientific claims, and baseless fear and misunderstanding of girls who are transgender,” and cites biased statements made while the legislature debated the bill —like a state senator saying the “trans movement” as “an attack upon womanhood” — as evidence that it’s an attack on a minority group and not a genuine, well-researched attempt to help cisgender girls win at sports, as the bill’s sponsors said.
Before he signed H.B. 3293, Gov. Justice said that he “can’t possibly get through my head” why others think it’s OK for transgender students to be treated as their actual gender and not as the sex they were assigned at birth.
Later, he said on MSNBC that the bill wasn’t even a priority for him, and he couldn’t even name a single trans kid who wanted to compete in school sports in his state, saying that there are only “12 kids maybe in our state that are transgender-type kids.”
Now Becky wants him to know that she lives there and she wants to be treated like any other girl.
“Running with the girls means a lot to me because I am a girl, and I should be treated like a girl,” her declaration says. “If I do not get to participate in cross-country or track, I will miss out on the opportunity to spend time with my friends and grow with a new team.”