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Defendants seek dismissal in lawsuit to remove transgender student from UW sorority

A black bison on a transgender flag
Jeff Victor
Laramie Reporter

Earlier this year, several members of a sorority chapter at the University of Wyoming sued their national organization, seeking to remove a transgender student from the chapter. The lawsuit alleges that the plaintiffs feel unsafe around the transgender inductee and asks the sorority as whole to ban the induction of transgender women across its organization.

The defendants, including the national Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and the transgender student herself, have now asked the court to throw out the entire case.

The sorority argues that it can determine its own membership policies, that it has accepted transgender members for several years, and that the case does not belong in a court of law.

"Our courts exist to address legal wrongs; they are not a place where people can go to reshape society to fit their exact sensibilities and preferences," the sorority's motion states. "Plaintiffs can also resign their membership in the organization if a position of inclusion is too offensive to their personal values."

Meanwhile, Artemis Langford, the transgender student at the heart of this case, argues that the plaintiffs failed to bring a claim against her specifically. The lawsuit asks the sorority to remove Langford and ban transgender women from joining its chapters. But the lawsuit asks for nothing from Langford herself.

"[The] Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint rambles on for 65 pages with details Plaintiffs overwhelmingly did not see fit to incorporate into any causes of action," Langford's motion states.

Langford alleges that the lawsuit and the plaintiff’s conduct in the wider world has instead been an exercise in cruelty.

Both motions were filed in federal court Tuesday, June 20.

The lawsuit

In March, seven members of UW's Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming, asking the national sorority to remove Langford. The lawsuit describes Langford's induction into the chapter and claims other members were pressured to support her bid.

The lawsuit alleges that Langford has behaved in a creepy or lewd manner during events at the sorority house. It describes Langford's appearance in detail in service of the argument that her appearance does not conform to traditional femininity. The lawsuit also spends significant time laying out the plaintiff's beliefs surrounding gender — claiming specifically that transwomen are not women but instead are men pretending to be women.

Originally, the plaintiffs aimed to file their lawsuit anonymously, citing fears for their safety. But Judge Alan B. Johnson rejected their request for anonymity twice.

"Plaintiffs have chosen to level accusations of impropriety against Defendants," Johnson wrote. "They must now shoulder the burden of those accusations and walk in the public eye."

Six of the seven original plaintiffs refiled the suit with their names attached. They have requested a jury trial.

The sorority's argument

The lawsuit claims the sorority violated its own bylaws when it inducted Langford last year. Because the sorority establishes itself as being a "single gender organization" and the plaintiffs do not view Langford as a woman, they view her induction as a violation of that central mission.

But Kappa Kappa Gamma counters that it has accepted transgender members since 2015, that accepting transgender women is not a violation of their central mission, and further, that this entire argument should not be settled by a court because, as a private organization, Kappa has the right to determine its own membership policies.

"The majority of the Amended Complaint amounts to little more than a winding discussion of why Plaintiffs believe that transgender women should not be treated as women and should therefore be excluded from women’s organizations," the motion states. "Plaintiffs then attempt to package those opinions as legal claims by alleging that Kappa is required by its bylaws to share this exclusionary viewpoint and that Plaintiffs have some contractual right to live in a sorority house that is free from the presence of transgender women."

Further, Kappa argues that the "cruelty" demonstrated by the plaintiffs and their supporters, in the lawsuit and in the press, have been "disturbing." The motion asks for dismissal, but acknowledges that dismissing the case is unlikely to change any hearts.

"It may not cause them to reevaluate the morality of attacking the character and appearance of a college student in a publicity drive for divisive litigation or begin to acknowledge the humanity of transgender people in their words and actions," the motion states. "What dismissal will do is establish that Plaintiffs' legal claims are baseless and show their supporters and others who may seek to use the courts for their own political purposes that funding frivolous litigation is not the way to resolve disputes or effect change."

Langford's argument

Langford's motion to dismiss makes some of the same arguments, including that the lawsuit fails to be concise or state its goals plainly.

"Included in the muddle of irrelevant allegations are philosophical arguments over what it means to be a woman, insulting jabs at Ms. Langford’s physical appearance, allegations from wholly unrelated lawsuits, song lyrics, Ms. Langford's alleged GPA, and a reference to Ms. Langford singing a Christmas carol at a party," the motion states.

The motion also highlights the fallout from this lawsuit, including "nationwide ridicule (of Langford) that is encouraged and participated in by Plaintiffs and their counsel."

The motion gives a few examples of the "nationwide ridicule" Langford has experienced, mostly stemming from the plaintiffs' appearances on conservative talk shows. These include being called a "pervert" by Megyn Kelly, being called a "perverted, sexually-deviant male" by Caitlyn Jenner, and having her GPA mocked by Laura Ingram. Langford claims threatening messages have followed in the wake of these appearances.

Langford accuses the plaintiffs of filing the lawsuit not to make a legal point, but to "gain recognition and to fundraise." As evidence in her motion, she points to the national media appearances, as well as a crowdfunding page, where these appearances are posted and through which they've already raised nearly $50,000.

Ultimately, Langford's motion asks the court to dismiss her from the case, arguing that the plaintiffs failed to make a claim against her specifically. She is asking that the case be dismissed "with prejudice" — meaning the plaintiffs would not be able to bring the same case again.

"Ms. Langford … has been dragged before this Court to defend herself against claims which do not require any party to name her personally or to wield repackaged versions of the same vicious rumors that have been used to vilify the transgender community for ages," the motion states at its conclusion. "Kappa Kappa Gamma openly accepted transgender members before any Plaintiff chose to join the sorority, yet they now ask this Court to take away Ms. Langford's seat at the table."

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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