Appeals court hears Wyoming university students’ lawsuit against sorority for allowing trans member

May 15, 2024 | Latest News | 0 comments

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University of Wyoming sorority members appealed the admission of a transgender student into their local chapter in federal appellate court Tuesday.

The attorney for six current and former members of the Kappa Kappa Gamma (KKG) sorority gave arguments before the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals after they challenged the admission of Artemis Langford into KKG, asserting sorority rules do not allow transgender women. The plaintiffs claimed Langford made them feel uncomfortable in their sorority house, concerns the local chapter previously voted down. 

The three-judge court heard arguments from both sides without ruling, with one judge casting doubt on whether the court should even hear the case. Former college swimmer and women’s rights activist Riley Gaines was in attendance to support the plaintiffs.

District Judge Alan Johnson sided with Langford and the local chapter last summer, stating that sorority bylaws did not explicitly define what a woman is. The appeal claimed Johnson gave too much deference to sorority leaders who created their own definitions of women.

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Langford is not included in the appeal. Instead, the sorority sisters have named the national KKG sorority and its president, Mary Pat Rooney, as defendants.

“Kappa’s directors have a simple duty. They must respect the clear terms of Kappa’s bylaws. They utterly failed to do so by ending the sorority’s women-only membership and threatening existing members to accept the unlawful change or else lose their own membership,” the sorority sisters’ attorney, May Mailman, said, according to a preview of oral arguments. “If this fight were about any other common term, the violation would be obvious. Gender ideology is not a reason to upend simple legal principles.”

Mailman told the judges Tuesday the national sorority council was unfair to sorority members by changing who could belong. She argued that by allowing transgender women into the chapter at the university, the national sorority council and president violated their obligation to sorority members to faithfully follow sorority bylaws. 

KKG attorney Natalie McLaughlin argued that state law in Ohio, where the organization is based, gives wide leeway to define terms in those bylaws, including who is a woman.

The appellate judges questioned whether they could even rule on the sorority members’ appeal or if the lower court should continue to hear the case.

The district judge dismissed the case without prejudice last year in a ruling that suggested the lawsuit could be refiled in his court. This, some of the judges suggested, could affect the ability to appeal.

“It seems to me it’s not final,” Appellate Judge Carolyn McHugh told Mailman, according to Cowboy State Daily.

Mailman argued that the district court’s decision gave enough justification for an appeal, but Judge Richard Federico appeared to agree with McHugh.

After the hearing, Gaines along with other members of the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) held a “Save Sisterhood” press conference to discuss the lawsuit and call for the sorority and university to recognize women’s rights.

“Today during oral arguments, Kappa said that they could not define what a ‘woman’ is, that this is a word that doesn’t have just one singular definition, and there are multiple definitions. They said there wasn’t enough research to be able to fully answer that question accurately,” Gaines said.

“But Independent Women’s Forum is here on the ground as one of the leading women’s organizations fighting for the sanctity of truth, fighting for and defending women’s rights. We are standing for privacy, for safety, and equal opportunity. We are standing for women. The stand that we are taking is pro-woman, not anti-anyone or anything,” Gaines added.

Former members of the KKG sorority initially sued the national organization in March 2023.

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The sorority members alleged in the original suit that Langford had “been voyeuristically peeping on them while they were in intimate situations, and, on at least one occasion, had a visible erection while doing so.”

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