- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 14, 2024

DENVER — A half-dozen University of Wyoming sorority sisters took their fight over Kappa Kappa Gamma’s transgender policy to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and they weren’t alone.

Packing the courtroom Tuesday were dozens of their supporters, including Kappa Kappa Gamma alumnae; leaders of the Independent Women’s Forum; feminists from the Women’s Liberation Front and Women’s Declaration International USA; and All-American swimmer Riley Gaines.

“These girls were promised sisterhood, but instead Kappa Kappa Gamma gave them the brother that they never wanted,” Ms. Gaines, an IWF ambassador and host of OutKick’s “Gaines on Girls,” said at a “Save Sisterhood” rally outside the federal courthouse in Denver.

She referred to Artemis Langford, a male-to-female transgender student who was permitted to join the university’s chapter in 2022, seven years after Kappa Kappa Gamma expanded its membership definition to allow “women and individuals who identify as women.”

The students sued the national sorority, but U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson dismissed the complaint in August, citing the ability of private organizations to interpret their own bylaws and declaring that “the court will not define a ‘woman’ today.”

The three-judge panel at Tuesday’s hearing focused initially on whether it had jurisdiction, asking May Mailman, lead counsel for the six sorority sisters, whether the plaintiffs had exhausted every avenue at the lower-court level before filing the appeal.

Judge Carolyn McHugh said the district court decision included “very specific instructions on how to fix your complaint and refile,” adding that the intent of the lower court “seems to me it’s not final.”

Asked Senior Judge Michael Murphy: “Don’t you agree that if you lose on the derivative claim, if you lose on the direct claim, that you can go back to district court and amend? Can’t you do that?”

He also questioned the decision to sue Mary Pat Rooney, president of the KKG Fraternity Council, and not all eight members of the council, given that a six-vote majority is required to make decisions.

The judges did wade into the “what is a woman” issue when questioning Natalie McLaughlin, attorney for Kappa Kappa Gamma, which was founded in 1870.

“The argument is this isn’t an interpretation, this is an amendment,” Judge McHugh said, “and that ‘woman’ has been expanding to include people who when the fraternity was formed would not have been considered women.”

Ms. McLaughlin acknowledged that Kappa never amended its bylaws, but defended the authority of the council to interpret terms within the bylaws.

“The term ‘woman’ is undefined in the bylaws, and that term ‘woman’ is not subject to a singular definition,” Ms. McLaughlin said. “Everyone in this large and diverse organization of over 210,000 individuals does not interpret that term in the same way.”

Judge McHugh countered: ““What if the organization adopted an interpretation that included cisgender men?”

Ms. McLaughlin stuck to her guns, saying that under Ohio law, the right of voluntary organizations “to adopt bylaws and interpret them and administer them is as sacred as to make them.”

Although the lawsuit grows out of the University of Wyoming chapter, Kappa Kappa Gamma is based in Ohio.

Courts may only step in if the interpretation is shown to be both unreasonable and arbitrary, she said.

Ms. Mailman, Independent Women’s Law Center director, said afterward that she worried that the three-judge panel was looking for a reason to get rid of the case without having to decide on the definition of “woman.”

“So what happened in court today? The court did not want to address ‘what is a woman,’ because they know what it is,” Ms. Mailman said. “So the court was looking to try and find small reasons not to hear this case.”

The hearing lasted less than an hour. A decision is not expected for several weeks at a minimum.

All three judges were appointed by Democrats: Judge McHugh by former President Obama; Judge Murphy by former President Clinton, and Judge Richard Federico by President Biden.

“They’re trying to avoid that because somehow there have been pressures in society that have minimized the importance of women in society and women’s spaces, and made it okay for people to act like they’ve forgotten what a woman is,” said Ms. Mailman.

Four of the six sorority sisters spoke at the rally after the hearing. One of them, Jaylyn Westenbroek, left the sorority, and another, Hannah Holtmeier, transferred to the University of Nebraska, but the rest remained with the Kappa chapter at Wyoming.

They said that Artemis Langford still attends the University of Wyoming and belongs to the sorority.

After raising concerns about admitting the transgender student to the sorority, Ms. Holtmeier said “I was ignored, belittled and seen as a bigot simply for saying that I should be asked to consent before having a man forced onto me and my sorority sisters as a sorority members.”

“I can attest to the toll it takes on young women,” she said. “Mentally knowing that at any point I could walk into the bathroom, or step out of the shower, to a 6-2, 260-lb. man is terrifying.”

Langford attorney Rachel Berkness told WyoFile last year that the “lawsuit against Artemis is horrible, false, and causing harm to Artemis and other trans people.”

Ms. Gaines stressed that women who object to having biological males in their locker rooms, sports and sororities aren’t “anti-transgender.”

“The stand we have taken is pro-women, not anti-anything,” she said.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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