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Parties await ruling in appeal to remove transgender UW sorority member

A black bison on a transgender flag
Jeff Victor
The Laramie Reporter/Wyoming Public Media

Last year, a federal court threw out a lawsuit seeking the removal of a transgender student from a University of Wyoming (UW) sorority. Now, the bringers of that lawsuit are appealing the decision in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Six members of the Kappa Kappa Gamma (KKG) sorority at UW sued their own sorority last year after it inducted a transgender student into its ranks. The plaintiffs argued that transgender women are not women and that the sorority broke its own by-laws when it started using a more inclusive definition of the word "woman."

"Defendants, the nationwide leaders of the sorority, are attempting to force Kappa to accept individuals that Kappa's own Bylaws exclude," they argue in court documents.

But the U.S. District Court of Wyoming ruled that private organizations such as Kappa are allowed to decide their own membership. The court also refused to define the word "woman."

"Unadorned, this case condenses to this: who decides whether [Artemis] Langford is a Kappa Kappa Gamma sister?" U.S. District Court Judge Alan B. Johnson wrote in his Aug. 25 ruling. "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."

But the plaintiffs have now appealed that decision, arguing that the court can indeed enforce a private organization's bylaws. They also say the court should interpret Kappa’s by-laws as limiting membership to cisgender women.

"Simply put, judicial enforcement of corporate requirements does not infringe an organization's First Amendment rights of association," the appeal states. "'Woman' is not an ambiguous term open to an evolving interpretation."

Lawyers for the sorority have also responded, arguing that the first ruling was correct, that the sorority has a right to interpret its own by-laws, and that it has been inclusive of transgender women for years.

"At its core, this is a case about who can and cannot join the membership of a private organization," Kappa's lawyers write in their response. "Specifically, it is about whether Kappa can admit transgender women to its membership or not. The First Amendment confines those decisions to organizations and their members, not government actors like courts and legislatures."

Both parties now await action from the court.

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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