Climate change poses an even more urgent threat to humanity than previously thought. The most lethal terror risk to Americans continues to be posed by domestic anti-government and white nationalist extremists. A former president continues to hammer away at the very pillars of our nation’s democracy. Those are headlines from just the last week.
But the GOP continues to flag what it believes to be the true source of danger to our nation: people like 12-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson.
Becky is a middle schooler in West Virginia, a former cheerleader who now runs on her school’s cross-country team. She’s not a professional athlete in the making. Not by a long shot. She just wants to participate in a school sport with her classmates.
These facts about Becky’s backstory have all been stipulated in court filings because she is also locked in a legal battle with her state that has landed at the door of the US Supreme Court.
Becky is transgender, and she’s suing West Virginia because it’s one of 19 states where Republican lawmakers have passed laws banning transgender students from participating in sports in accordance with their gender identity. These laws treat students like Becky as public enemies, unworthy of the same rights and protections their classmates enjoy.
Who does it hurt if Becky, who the parties in the case have stipulated tends to fall somewhere in the back of the cross-country pack, participates in a school sport? No one. But that isn’t the point to lawmakers passing these bans.
These lawmakers have another goal in mind: courting white evangelicals — an increasingly crucial faction of the party’s ever-shrinking base. And, according to a Pew Research survey, a majority of white evangelicals believe that protections for transgender Americans have “gone too far.”
This is not, of course, a victimless political pander. Laws that ban students from school activities, bar them from being called by their correct names and pronouns, and erase their stories from school library shelves and curricula are the real danger. Consider that young trans teenagers are upward of seven times more likely to attempt suicide than their cisgender peers. These laws endanger these children.
And if the Supreme Court steps in with an order in favor of the state, it would pour fuel on an already raging culture war inferno.
In a joint statement, the ACLU and Lambda Legal, which are representing Becky in the legal challenge, call the move by West Virginia to seek the Supreme Court’s intervention at this juncture “petty and baseless.”
They’re not wrong. The litigation hasn’t even run its course in the lower court, so it’s nowhere near ready for a Supreme Court hearing. What has irked West Virginia is that Becky sought and was granted a stay by a federal appeals court that allows her to remain on the cross-country team while the case continues. So state officials turned to the nation’s highest court to lift that stay. That’s the urgent matter, they argued.
The stay “spurns West Virginia voters who deserve to have their laws enforced when their elected representatives respond to an identified problem,” West Virginia argues in its petition to the Supreme Court. “States should continue to have the right to legislate — even in politically controversial areas — without unexplained reversals from on high.”
States that have passed gun control legislation and abortion pill protections that have been continually challenged in courts would like a word, but I digress.
Lifting the stay allowing Becky to keep running with her friends would require the justices to find, among other things, that the state would suffer some “irreparable harm” by leaving that stay in place while the case plays out. But who is really being harmed here?
The Supreme Court could chime in as soon as a matter of days. It’s worth noting that the court, in an opinion authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, has already held that civil rights laws barring gender-based employment discrimination also protect LGBTQ workers. There is a similar law protecting students — Title IX. I find it hard to imagine how the court could ultimately rule that Becky’s rights are different as a student than they would be if she were an employee.
But I also know that, lately, consistency hasn’t been this court’s strongest virtue. Republicans are counting on the court to contradict itself again.
Kimberly Atkins Stohr is a columnist for the Globe. She may be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @KimberlyEAtkins.