Suit seeks trans student's removal
March 30, 2023
CASPER - Several members of a University of Wyoming sorority have filed a lawsuit seeking to remove the first transgender student accepted into Greek life in the school's history.
Seven current members of UW's Kappa Kappa Gamma sued the sorority's parent organization, its president and the sorority's first transgender inductee in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming on Monday alleging the sorority did not follow its bylaws and policies, breached its housing contract with members and misled them by admitting a transgender member.
They seek to revoke the student's membership and prohibit any "man" from joining a sorority, along with obtaining monetary damages from the sorority.
In their more than 150-page filing, the sorority members' attorneys Cassie Craven and John Knepper assert that the national Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority did not follow its own bylaws and rules and failed to uphold its mission by admitting a transgender student.
The seven sorority members filed the suit anonymously. The lawsuit refers to the transgender student by the pseudonym "Terry Smith" in keeping with the anonymity of the seven women suing Kappa Kappa Gamma.
When reached by a reporter Wednesday, the student declined to comment on the record. The Star-Tribune is not naming the student given that the sorority members in the lawsuit are also maintaining their anonymity.
Craven and Knepper argue that the sorority's purpose to "unite women, through membership, in a close bond of friendship" and its requirement that membership be restricted to women preclude the organization from accepting a transgender person. They also state that the experience of the sorority members has been fundamentally harmed by the decision to include a transgender student in a "single sex" environment.
The sorority's leadership team and its president Mary Pat Rooney "have unilaterally concluded that a man can become a Kappa member if he claims to have the subjective belief he is a woman. This conclusion disregards biology, Kappa's 150-year history, and Kappa's purpose, mission and bylaws," Craven and Knepper wrote.
Craven and Knepper declined to comment, but in a statement the two attorneys said the lawsuit was a matter of women's rights and portrayed the issue as a political one. "Sadly, current Kappa leadership has chosen to violate their duties to protect this cherished institution.They have ignored the organizations Charter and Bylaws
in favor of activism and by doing so, have harmed its members and the organization as a whole," they said.
Craven and Knepper backed up their claims that Rooney and the sorority's leadership team have failed in their stewardship of the organization by pointing to repercussions that they linked to the UW chapter's acceptance of a transgender student.
As of the lawsuit's filing, only 10 of the sorority's roughly 50 members have signed housing contracts for the next school year, the lawyers alleged, something they wrote was because of the transgender student's presence and access to the sorority's house.
They claim that almost half of the women offered bids turned the sorority down in 2022 and only two women pledged to join Kappa Kappa Gamma at UW this spring, threatening the financial viability of the chapter.
"The insistence on admitting men to the Sorority has also resulted in a significant decline in alumnae giving, membership, and participation.These changes have also harmed the ability of Kappa Kappa chapters across the nation to recruit new members," Craven and Knepper wrote.
The lawsuit also includes a series of accusations against the transgender student, including that they asked sorority members sexual questions, watched other women and made some members feel uncomfortable.
According to the complaint, Kappa Kappa Gamma's leadership was dismissive of the concerns raised by the sorority members and their parents and did not address the issues the women raised with the sorority's bylaws and policies.
But in a November 2022 letter to Craven and Knepper, a lawyer for Kappa Kappa Gamma said that each chapter of the sorority makes its own acceptance decisions and the sorority's bylaws do not prevent a transgender student from joining.
"Kappa's bylaws and other governing documents state that Kappa is a single-gender organization. Gender is not equivalent to biological sex, birth anatomy, or chromosomes," wrote Natalie McLaughlin, the sorority's attorney. "Rather, it is a broader construct encompassing identity. A person's gender identity is their subjective, deep-core sense of self as being a particular gender. As a single-gender organization, Kappa welcomes all women, including individuals who may have been born as males but identify as women."
McLaughlin, Kappa Kappa Gamma and the UW chapter of the sorority did not return requests for comment.
In 2018, the sorority also issued a "Guide for Supporting Our LGBTQIA+ Members," which encouraged members to treat others with dignity and respect and stated that the sorority "is a single-gender organization comprised of women and individuals who identify as women whose governing documents do not discriminate in membership selection except by requiring good scholarship and ethical character."
The lawsuit echoes the intense national debate around gender identity and inclusion, which has roiled UW in recent months.
The university suspended a Laramie church elder's tabling rights in December after he targeted the same transgender student with a sign in the school's student union. Some Wyoming lawmakers denounced the university's decision, saying it infringed on the church leader's free speech rights.
Meanwhile, alumni, members and allies of UW's LGBTQ+ community called for further action to stymie harassment and ensure the safety of students.
In a statement following the event, UW President Ed Seidel referenced the hostility around the issue while maintaining the university's commitment to members of the LGBTQ+ community.
"Our world, nation and state have experienced an increase in hateful rhetoric targeting historically underrepresented and vulnerable groups, including the LGBTQIAP2S+ community," he said. "UW has not escaped this type of bigotry, and we must take an unequivocal stand against it – while at the same time expressing and demonstrating support for all members of our university community."
This story was published on March 30, 2023.