Wyoming Lawsuit Against Transgender Sorority Sister Dismissed

Image Source: Shannon Broderick/Laramie Boomerang via AP, File Photo Source: Shannon Broderick/Laramie Boomerang via AP, File

A Federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit that challenged a transgender woman's induction into the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority at the University of Wyoming. The lawsuit made national headlines and was dubbed an intentional effort to further curb transgender rights and protections. Last week’s ruling to dismiss the lawsuit sparked renewed hope in a community that has been the target of lawsuits, legal restrictions, and debate over the years.

At the heart of the case’s dismissal was U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson’s ruling that because Kappa Kappa Gamma failed to "expansively" define gender in its bylaws, the court would not define what a woman is.

The lawsuit was filed in March by six members of Kappa Kappa Gamma against the national sorority organization, its national council president, and Artemis Langford, the transgender woman at the center of the lawsuit.

Their suit made national headlines after the sorority member plaintiffs claimed that Langford began to make them feel uneasy and uncomfortable shortly after being inducted into the chapter.

Among the complaints was that Langford, who is referred to as Terry Smith in the lawsuit, was a predator. “Mr. Smith has, while watching members enter the sorority house, had an erection visible through his leggings,” the suit claims. “Other times, he has had a pillow in his lap.”

The lawsuit also argued that the sorority “limits membership to women only” but that last Fall a man, Terry Smith, was inducted as a member.

The lawsuit detailed, "Kappa Kappa Gamma was founded in 1870 as a single-sex organization for women, and it has consistently described itself as such." After Langford was inducted, however, the plaintiffs argue that Langford's presence deprived them of the “all-female environment.”

Judge Johnson's ruling disagreed with the plaintiff's case that Langford should be denied participation in the sorority. Johnson wrote that "The University of Wyoming chapter voted to admit -- and, more broadly, a sorority of hundreds of thousands approved -- Langford," adding, "With its inquiry beginning and ending there, the court will not define 'woman' today. The delegate of a private, voluntary organization interpreted 'woman,' otherwise undefined in the nonprofit's bylaws, expansively; this judge may not invade Kappa Kappa Gamma's freedom of expressive association and inject the circumscribed definition plaintiffs urge.”

In a May interview with Megyn Kelly on her podcast show, the plaintiffs described living in “constant fear in our home” when Langford was present and that Langford would stare at sorority members for hours without talking.

“It is seriously an only-female space. It is so different than living in the dorms, for instance, where men and women can commingle on the floors. That is not the case in a sorority house. We share just a couple of main bathrooms on the upstairs floor,” shared one of the plaintiffs.

In June, chapter leaders for the sorority, including council President Pat Rooney, and the sorority's nonprofit organization filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit.

Sorority officials backed the court's decision to dismiss the case, sharing, "Kappa Kappa Gamma applauds the court's ruling in Wyoming upholding a private organization's right to choose their members,” adding, “We look forward to moving past this lawsuit so we can continue the important work being done every day on behalf of all of our members."

Langford’s attorney, Rachel Berkness, welcomed the ruling. In a statement shared with the Associated Press, Berkness defended against the accusations made against Langford. Berkness explained of the allegations, “They are nothing more than cruel rumors that mirror exactly the type of rumors used to vilify and dehumanize members of the LGBTQIA+ community for generations. And they are baseless.”

Cassie Craven, the attorney representing the sorority sisters, said that her clients disagree with the ruling but pointed out that the chapter does not have a proper definition of what a woman is.

“Women have a biological reality that deserves to be protected and recognized, and we will continue to fight for that right just as women suffragists for decades have been told that their bodies, opinions, and safety don’t matter,” Craven shared in an email to the New York Post.

It is not clear if the sorority plans to change its bylaws to clarify the definition of a woman or how it will (if at all) define participation guidelines for transgender individuals.

Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti is a postgraduate from James Madison University, where she studied English and Education. Residing in Central Virginia with her husband and two young daughters, she balances her workaholic tendencies with a passion for travel, exploring the world with her family.
Legal Blogs (Sponsored)