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Former West Virginia State University soccer player Lainey Armistead.

Athletes, Olympians unite to support women's sports in WV

15 friend-of-the-court briefs filed with 4th Circuit in support of state law protecting female athletes

Friday, May 5, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. – Athletes across the country, from middle-school runners in West Virginia to medal-winning Olympians, together with numerous advocacy groups and 17 states have united in support of protecting women’s sports in West Virginia by filing friend-of-the-court briefs with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in B.P.J. v. West Virginia State Board of Education.

“Every woman deserves the respect and dignity that comes with having an equal opportunity to excel and win in athletics. Biology, not identity, is what matters in sports,” said ADF Senior Counsel Christiana Kiefer. “When society and the law try to ignore reality, people get hurt. In sports, it’s women and girls who pay the price. Thankfully, many states have joined West Virginia in passing laws that protect women and girls from having to compete against males, and multiple female athletes and advocacy groups have joined us in urging the 4th Circuit to allow West Virginia to enforce its validly enacted law that protects female athletes.”

In the case, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent Lainey Armistead, a former West Virginia State University soccer player who intervened in the lawsuit to defend the state’s law, which was enacted to ensure equal athletic opportunities for women.

In January, a federal district court upheld West Virginia’s law, but then the plaintiff, a male athlete, asked the 4th Circuit to halt enforcement of the law during the appeal so the athlete could try out for a girls’ track team. Days later, the 4th Circuit granted the request without providing any legal or factual basis for its decision—only stating that the injunction was granted. Attorneys with ADF and the West Virginia attorney general’s office then filed a motion asking the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate the 4th Circuit’s decision and allow West Virginia’s law to take full effect. While the Supreme Court declined to do so, it did not rule on the merits of the case, which continues in the court of appeals.

Seventy-eight female athletes, coaches, sports officials, and parents of female athletes—including Olympic medalists and two middle-school track athletes currently competing in West Virginia—explain in a brief that their experiences “prove that females are uniquely and adversely affected when they are forced to compete against males in sports. Their personal stories show that females and males cannot experience or compete in physical sports in the same way; that the psychological, tangible, and long-term harm suffered by females forced to compete against males is irreversible; and that females across the nation at all levels of sports are suffering real harm that threatens their right to basic equality, safety, and equal opportunity under the law.”

As the Independent Council on Women’s Sport states in its brief, “Recognizing biological differences between the sexes and protecting women’s spaces from male intrusion are foundational for women to succeed in sports and in life. It is the experience of [the filers of this brief] that legal protections giving women the opportunity to take part in and succeed in sport are essential to the advancement of women and depend on the law’s basic ability to distinguish between women and men and courts’ capacity to evaluate, compare, and equalize the opportunities of the former in comparison to those of the latter.”

  • Pronunciation guide: Kiefer (KEE’-fer)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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Friend-of-the-court briefs filed with U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit