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Sorority: Judge rightly dismissed UW transgender member case

Six women who sued UW's Kappa Kappa Gamma last year are incorrect to assume the term 'woman' cannot include transgender women, according to attorneys for the sorority.

The government should not interfere with how a private organization interprets its bylaws or determines its membership, the sorority at the center of a lawsuit over a transgender student's admission argues in its latest court filing.

The University of Wyoming chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma was sued by six of its members last year for admitting Artemis Langford, the first openly transgender woman to join the sorority. The plaintiffs - Jaylyn Westernbroek, Hannah Holtmeier, Allison Coghan, Grace Choate, Madeline Ramar and Megan Kosar - accuse the sorority of breaking its bylaws and breaching housing contracts. They are seeking damages and Langford's removal.

After U.S. District Court Judge Alan B. Johnson dismissed the complaint in August, the plaintiffs asked the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to reverse the decision. But attorneys for the sorority argue the lower court got it right.

"The court should affirm the district court's dismissal of all claims," the Jan. 3 brief states.

In his ruling, Johnson wrote that the court cannot interfere with how the sorority determines its membership since it's a private organization.

"Defining 'woman' is Kappa Kappa Gamma's bedrock right as a private, voluntary organization - and one this Court may not invade," Johnson wrote.

He also cited a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that held the Boy Scouts of America could exclude a gay man from its membership through its First Amendment right of expressive association.

Attorneys for the six sorority sisters contend Johnson erred in his ruling and dodged the question that needed answering.

Johnson's rulings "fabricated obstacles to avoid" properly weighing in on the complaint, attorneys for the plaintiffs wrote in a scathing brief filed in December.

"The question at the heart of this case is the definition of 'woman,' a term that Kappa has used since 1870 to prescribe membership, in Kappa's giving documents," they wrote.

Attorneys for Kappa Kappa Gamma rebutted it's incorrect to assume the term "woman" would not include transgender women.

"The bylaws do not define 'woman' based on sex assigned at birth, chromosomal makeup, or any other genetic criteria," the sorority states in its brief.

"In fact, the bylaws do not define the term 'woman' at all."

"Courts, social science, and numerous other segments of society have adopted a broader, more inclusive definition of the term," the sorority argues. "Kappa's Fraternity Council, not bound by a Bylaw that defines 'woman' more strictly, is free to inclusively define 'woman' to include transgender women in interpreting Kappa's bylaws."

In October, the appeals court ordered both parties to file briefs on the merits after the two sides disputed whether the lower court's ruling could be appealed in the first place.

Since then, three amicus briefs have been filed in the appellate court in favor of reversing the lower court's decision - two of which were authored by national anti-transgender-rights organizations including Women's Declaration International USA and Women's Liberation Front.

The third was filed on behalf of 450 Kappa Kappa Gamma alumni. The sorority has initiated more than 300,000 members since its founding, according to its website.

The plaintiffs now have until Jan. 24 to file an optional reply brief.

Langford, meanwhile, remains a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, though she continues to live outside of the sorority house.

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