Federal judge blocks Arizona law banning transgender athletes from girls' sports teams

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday temporarily blocked Arizona from enforcing a law banning transgender girls from playing on girls' school sports teams.

The judge in Tucson granted a preliminary injunction to allow processing of a lawsuit filed on behalf of two transgender girls against the state's “Save Women's Sports Act,” which was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature last year.

The lawsuit argues the law violates federal Title IX, the law barring sex discrimination in schools receiving federal funds, and the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, who is a defendant in the case, said the decision will be appealed.

"This will ultimately be decided by the United States Supreme Court, and they will rule in our favor,” Horne said in a statement.

Arizona is one of several states and some school districts that have passed laws limiting access to school sports teams or other facilities to students on the basis of the sex they were assigned at birth rather than their gender identity.

The Arizona plaintiffs include a 15-year-old volleyball player and an 11-year-old who wants to play girls’ soccer, basketball and cross-country. In court filings, they have been named Jane Doe and Megan Roe.

Parents of both children said they were pleased with the court’s decision.

“We are relieved that the judge saw past the misconceptions and harmful rhetoric used to demonize transgender girls. Our daughter is looking forward to making new friends and playing the sports that she loves,” Jane Doe's parents said in a statement from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is helping to represent them.

Arizona officials have said the law passes federal muster because it aims at fairness.

“Title IX was aimed at giving girls equal opportunities for playing sports. When a biological boy plays in a girls’ sport, it disadvantages the girls,” Horne told The Associated Press when the lawsuit was filed in April. “There have been lots of news stories about girls who worked hard to excel at their sports, found they could not when they had to compete against biological boys and were devastated by that.”

In issuing the preliminary injunction, however, Judge Jennifer G. Zipps said there was no evidence that allowing the children, who have been prescribed puberty blockers for gender dysphoria, to play on girls' teams would have an athletic advantage or prove a safety risk to other players.

Rather, the judge said the children will “suffer severe and irreparable mental, physical, and emotional harm if the Act applies to them because they cannot play on boys’ sports teams" which would be “painful and humiliating.”

“There is a consensus among medical organizations that gender identity is innate and cannot be changed through psychological or medical treatments,” the ruling said.

“Plaintiffs’ mental health is dependent on living as girls in all aspects of their lives,” the judge wrote.

LGBTQ+ rights advocates say bills like the one passed in Arizona and hundreds more across the U.S. are anti-transgender attacks disguised as protections for children and that they use transgender people as political pawns to galvanize GOP voters ahead of an election year.

Courts have blocked some measures in several states, including last week in Wisconsin.