Federal judge blocks state’s ban on transgender girls playing on girls’ school sports teams

Evo A. Deconcini Courthouse in Tucson. A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction Thursday against the Save Women’s Sports Act in favor of two transgender girl plaintiffs.

By Jon Johnson


TUCSON – A federal judge in Tucson has struck down Arizona’s “Save Women’s Sports Act”, at least in the case of two transgender girl athletes challenging the new law.  

On Thursday, July 20, U.S. District Judge Jennifer G Zipps granted a Motion for Preliminary Injunction in favor of the plaintiffs and enjoined defendant State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne from enforcing the sports act on them.

“Precluding transgender girls, who have not experienced male puberty, from playing girls’ sports, treats transgender boys and transgender girls differently and treats boys’ and girls’ sports differently, with only girls’ teams facing potential challenges, including litigation, related to suspected transgender players,” Judge Zipps wrote in her ruling. “Contrary to the asserted safety goal, the Act does not protect transgender boys — identified by Defendant Horne and Intervenors as ‘biological girls.’ In fact, the Act allows ‘biological girls’ to play on boys’ sports teams, subjecting them to the alleged risks of that association. This is allowed prepuberty and without regard for whether the transgender boy is receiving testosterone enhancements.” 

“The Act’s creation of a private cause of action against a school for any student who is deprived of an athletic opportunity or suffers any harm, whether direct or indirect, related to a school’s failure to preclude (the) participation of a transgender girl on a girls’ team places an onerous burden on girls’ sports programs, not faced by boys’ athletic programs.”

The Arizona Legislature previously adopted the Save Women’s Sports Act, also known as ARS 15-120.02, and it became effective Sept. 24, 2022. The act requires that each interscholastic or intramural athletic team or sort that is sponsored by a public or private school whose teams compete against a public school shall be expressively designated by the biological sex of the students who participate on the team or in the sport.  

The case came to the District Court after two transgender girls alleged the act precludes them from playing on girls’ sports teams because they are transgender girls.  

According to court records, the case involves a 15-year-old transgender girl (Megan Roe) who plays volleyball and an 11-year-old transgender girl (Jane Doe) who plays soccer, basketball and runs cross-country.

Megan has lived as a girl since she was 7 and was diagnosed with gender dysphoria when she was 10. She has been taking puberty blockers since she was 11 as part of her medical treatment and has thusly prevented her from undergoing male puberty. With the addition of hormone therapy since she was 12, Megan has not experienced the physiological changes that increased testosterone levels would cause in a pubescent boy, but rather has developed physiological changes associated with puberty in females, according to the judge’s order.

Megan has swum as a girl on her swim team and is excited to play on her high school girls’ volleyball team.  

Jane has lived as a girl since she was 5 and was diagnosed with gender dysphoria when she was 7. She takes puberty-blocking medication and has not and will not experience any of the physiological changes that increased testosterone levels would cause in a pubescent boy, according to the judge’s order. 

Jane is set to begin middle school this month and intends to participate on the cross-country team and try out for the girls’ soccer and basketball teams.  

“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.

However, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, the lone defendant in the lawsuit challenging Arizona’s law prohibiting biological boys from competing on girls’ interscholastic sports teams, said the state will appeal the judge’s injunction.

“We will appeal this ruling,” Horne said. “This will ultimately be decided by the United States Supreme Court, and they will rule in our favor.”

“The plaintiffs, in this case, claimed that this only involves pre-pubescent boys, but we presented peer-reviewed studies that show pre-pubescent boys have an advantage over girls in sports.”

“The only expert presented by the plaintiffs was a medical doctor who makes his money doing sex transition treatments on children and who has exactly zero peer-reviewed studies to support his opinion.”

However, Judge Zipps saw things differently. 

“The biological driver of average group differences in athletic performance between adolescent boys and girls is the difference in their respective levels of testosterone, which only begin to diverge significantly after the onset of puberty,” Judge Zipps states in the injunction. “Transgender girls who receive puberty-blocking medication do not have an athletic advantage over other girls because they do not undergo male puberty and do not experience the physiological changes caused by the increased production of testosterone associated with male puberty.”

“In short, transgender girls, who have not experienced male puberty, play like girls. There is no logical connection between prohibiting them from playing on girls’ sports teams and the goals of preventing unfair competition in girls’ sports or protecting girls from being physically injured by boys.”

The policy of the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA), which regulates the competitive interscholastic activities of its members, allows a student to request to play on a team consistent with his or her gender identity. Such a request is then reviewed by a committee of medical and psychiatric experts and is either approved or denied. In the past 10 years, the AIA has fielded 12 such requests and granted seven, according to court records. And despite the enactment of the Save Women’s Sports Act, the AIA has yet to alter its policy.