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Federal court won’t boot transgender sister from UW sorority, scolds plaintiffs for including 'irrelevant' allegations in lawsuit

University of Wyoming

College sororities are free to induct whoever they want, and that includes transgender students, according to a recent ruling from a federal court judge.

Earlier this year, six students at the University of Wyoming sued their own sorority, seeking to remove a transgender member from their chapter. They alleged the Kappa Kappa Gamma (KKG) sorority had violated its own stated mission of providing an "all-female" space by admitting a transgender student, Artemis Langford, who the plaintiffs do not see as a real woman.

U.S. District Court Judge Alan B. Johnson dismissed the lawsuit Friday, Aug. 25.

He argued the court can't interfere with a private sorority's membership. In his order, Johnson pointed to a U.S. Supreme Court case from two decades ago — one that allowed the Boy Scouts of America to not hire gay scoutmasters. If private organizations can ban members of the queer community, Johnson decided, they are also free to embrace them.

"Unadorned, this case condenses to this: who decides whether Langford is a Kappa Kappa Gamma sister?" Johnson wrote. "Though given the opportunity to vote this past fall, not the six Plaintiffs. Not KKG's Fraternity Council. Not even this federal Court. The University of Wyoming chapter voted to admit — and, more broadly, a sorority of hundreds of thousands approved — Langford. With its inquiry beginning and ending there, the Court will not define 'woman' today."

The case could be brought again. But the judge warned plaintiffs not to "copy and paste" from this lawsuit. The initial complaint included various allegations against the transgender student that were not connected to any specific claims. The judge noted these allegations were irrelevant and "unsubstantiated."

Rachel Berkness, Artemis Langford's lawyer, said she and her client were happy with the outcome but not surprised. Berkness said she was especially glad to see the final order call out the "irrelevance" of various comments in the initial complaint.

"The allegations that they put in the complaint had nothing to do with the legal claims," Berkness said. "For example, there's allegations about Miss Langford's height and weight in the complaint multiple times, and in other filings, allegations about the clothing that she wears, allegations about her sitting in a chair, and allegations about her writing in a notebook or singing a Christmas carol — that have nothing to do with the legal claims brought in the lawsuit."

Despite these allegations padding out the initial complaint's 153 pages, no claims were brought against Langford specifically.

Instead, the plaintiffs sought relief from the national KKG organization itself, asking the court to void Langford's membership and stop KKG from recruiting trans women. The court denied them this relief in its dismissal order, saying it would not dictate a private organization's membership policies.

Cassie Craven is a lawyer for the plaintiffs. She responded to a request for comment via email but would not say whether her clients planned to refile the lawsuit.

"The Court's opinion reflects an idea that the Plaintiffs cannot agree with," she wrote. "Women's rights do mean something. Women have a biological reality that deserves to be protected and recognized and we will continue to fight for that right just as women suffragists for decades have been told that their bodies, opinions, and safety doesn't matter. The Court stated it would not define what a 'woman' is. The fundamental issue has remained undecided. These young women will continue their fight."

The lawsuit garnered national attention. The plaintiffs appeared in state and national conservative media, where the transgender student's weight and appearance were mocked.

"If the plaintiffs were to refile, I think it would look a lot different," Berkness said. "I would hope that Ms. Langford wouldn’t be dragged through something like this again."

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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