Federal judges express doubts in appeal over transgender sorority member at University of Wyoming

University of Wyoming Court Judges Express Doubt Trans Woman Admission Artemis Langford
University of Wyoming Court Judges Express Doubt Trans Woman Admission Artemis Langford

Federal appellate court judges on Tuesday raised questions about whether they could rule on a case involving the admission of a transgender woman to a University of Wyoming sorority or if it should return to a lower court. The lawsuit, initiated last year by six sorority members, contests the inclusion of Artemis Langford in the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority at Wyoming’s only public university.

The three-judge panel from the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals listened to arguments from both sides before taking the case under advisement, the Associated Press reports.

The plaintiffs, consisting of current and former Kappa Kappa Gamma members, argue that Langford’s admission violates the sorority’s rules. An attorney for the plaintiffs claimed that the national sorority council unfairly altered membership criteria. However, the judges primarily questioned whether the case was ready for appeal.

U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson in Cheyenne dismissed the case last summer without prejudice, indicating it could be refiled.

Appellate Judge Carolyn McHugh noted, “It seems to me it’s not final,” addressing the plaintiffs’ attorney, May Mailman, the AP reports. Mailman maintained the district court had sufficiently resolved the case to warrant an appeal, but Appellate Judge Richard Federico expressed similar doubts. “The district court is offering you a lifeline,” he remarked.

Mailman contended that the national sorority council and president breached their duties by admitting transgender women, contrary to sorority bylaws. Kappa Kappa Gamma attorney Natalie McLaughlin countered that Ohio law (where the organization is based) grants the sorority’s board considerable discretion in defining bylaws, including membership criteria.

McLaughlin argued that a court intervention is warranted only if the interpretation is unreasonable or arbitrary.

Outside the courthouse, demonstrators held anti-trans signs reading “Save Sisterhood” and “Women have the right to women’s only spaces.”

“We shouldn’t have to say, ‘Here’s why I need my women’s space.’ Women’s spaces should be protected, period,” Mailman said at a news conference following the hearing, the AP reports.

Wyoming LGBTQ+ advocacy group Wyoming Equality criticized the plaintiffs’ stance. “They are arguing against the right of organizations to determine their own membership,” said director Sara Burlingame. “I am optimistic that the 10th Circuit will agree with Judge Johnson.”

The lawsuit, which also names Kappa Kappa Gamma’s president, Mary Pat Rooney, claims Langford’s presence in the sorority house made other members uncomfortable. Langford has been excluded from the appeal.

This legal dispute began last year when six women at the University of Wyoming sued Kappa Kappa Gamma for admitting Langford. The plaintiffs criticized Langford’s membership, arguing that the sorority’s decision violated their privacy and safety. They contended that the sorority’s national council unfairly changed the rules to allow Langford’s inclusion.

Langford and the sorority asked Johnson to dismiss the lawsuit, calling it frivolous and in bad faith. The sorority argued that it has the right to evolve its membership criteria and that the plaintiffs did not adequately consult the leadership before filing the suit.

According to the AP, the sorority’s policy aligns with 25 other sororities within the National Panhellenic Conference, a network of sororities in the U.S. and Canada.

The appellate court has yet to decide whether to rule on the case or return it to the lower court for further examination.