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Morrisey celebrates 50th anniversary of landmark women’s’ sports law

Briefs public on status of transgender student-athlete lawsuit

CELEBRATING TITLE IX — From left, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, Christiana Holcomb Kiefer with the Alliance Defending Freedom, Lainey Armistead, and Delegate Margitta Mazzocchi, praise Title IX protections for female athletes while defending a law preventing transgender girls and women from participating in girls and women’s sports. -- Steven Allen Adams

CHARLESTON — With Thursday being the 50th anniversary of a landmark law prohibiting discrimination of girls and women in taxpayer-funded sports, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said a lawsuit brought against a state law limiting participation in sports by transgender women will not succeed.

Morrisey held a press event in the East Wing of the Capitol Tuesday celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX and to give an update on the lawsuit filed against state and county officials to block enforcement of House Bill 3293, relating to single-sex participation in interscholastic athletic events.

Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal funding. The law went into effect June 23, 1972, with the passage of the Education Amendments of 1972.

“We are celebrating Title IX and the incredible things that it’s done for not only women’s sports, but for women,” Morrisey said. “So many successful women today benefited by participating in women’s sports…Women prior to 1972 didn’t have the same kind of athletic opportunities.”

Morrisey cited a 2017 survey by Ernst and Young that found that 80 percent of women in Fortune 500 companies said they played middle, high school or college sports, with 94 percent of women in executive-level management positions in companies having experience with scholastic sports.

“This was a profound change 50 years ago,” Morrisey said. “This is an incredible milestone, both in terms of the Title IX anniversary, but also of celebrating what West Virginia is doing to ensure basic fairness and ensuring that biological males don’t get an unfair advantage over women.”

Morrisey is referring to a lawsuit filed last year against the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, the West Virginia Board of Education and State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch, and the Harrison County Board of Education to block enforcement of House Bill 3293.

The bill, passed by the West Virginia Legislature and signed into law last year by Gov. Jim Justice, requires student athletes in middle school, high school or college to participate in sports that match their biological sex based on the student’s sex at the time of their birth.

The new law requires the state Board of Education, the Higher Education Policy Commission, and the West Virginia Community and Technical College System to promulgate rules for enforcement of the new law, but it mentions nothing about the WVSSAC.

“Having opportunities for our girls and women is so important,” said Delegate Margitta Mazzocchi, R-Logan, a supporter of HB 3293 on hand for Morrisey’s press event. “There is nothing fair or equal about making girls and women compete against boys and men. It’s Biology 101.”

Becky Pepper-Jackson, a transgender student at Bridgeport Middle School, filed suit last May seeking to halt enforcement of the law. Pepper-Jackson is represented by Lambda Legal, the state and national chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Cooley LLP.

Pepper-Jackson’s attorneys argue that HB 3293 violates Pepper-Jackson’s rights under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A trial for the case is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. July 26 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia before Judge Joseph Goodwin.

“This is a matter of basic fairness,” Morrisey said. “We believe that biological males should not be participating in these women’s only sports, so we think it’s clear. We think that the evidence that we’re presenting warrants a victory at the district court, but we’re prepared to move forward if the district court doesn’t go our way.”

Morrisey was joined Tuesday by Lainey Armistead and Christiana Holcomb Kiefer, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom. Armistead, a graduate of West Virginia State University where she played women’s soccer, filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit last fall in support of HB 3293. She is represented by Kiefer and Beckley attorney Brandon Steele, a member of the House of Delegates.

“In a contact sport like soccer, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how dangerous it is for male athletes to play against women in a competitive environment,” said Armistead, now a law school student in Florida.

“No young woman should be forced to compete against a male in her sport. It’s unfair and it’s unsafe,” Armistead continued. “No biological male should be allowed to take athletic opportunities away from women. Ignoring the biological differences between men and women is a huge loss for women, especially when we fought for our right to compete in the first place.”

Judge Goodwin is considering a motion filed by Pepper-Jackson’s attorneys asking the court to reconsider granting Armistead’s permissive intervention in the lawsuit given the fact that she is no longer living in the state or attending college in the state.

“Ms. Armistead has now graduated from WVSU and is a rising law school student in Florida with no concrete plans to play on any scholastic women’s soccer team, never mind in West Virginia,” wrote Loree Stark, legal director for the West Virginia chapter of the ACLU and part of Pepper-Jackson’s legal team.

“There is thus no basis for (Armistead) to remain a defendant in a case challenging HB 3293 for preventing (Pepper-Jackson) from participating on her middle school girls’ cross-country and track teams in West Virginia,” Stark continued. “Ms. Armistead’s graduation from WVSU severs her already tenuous connection to the issues in this litigation.”

Kiefer, speaking Tuesday, said Armistead is following in the footsteps of women who fought against discrimination of women in sports 50 years ago, the very thing that Title IX prevented.

“It took incredible courage for women 50 years ago to fight for women to compete, and yet here and decades later once again fighting for the freedom of women and girls to have their own place in sports,” Kiefer said.

“It’s incredible to watch this next generation of female athletes lead courageously and advocate for fairness and safety in women’s sports,” Kiefer continued. “Women like Lainey Armistead, a female who leads others not only on the soccer field, but also courageously stepped in to help defend the freedom of future young women in the State of West Virginia to enjoy the same athletic opportunities that she had.”

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