Six members of Kappa Kappa Gamma at the University of Wyoming are suing their sorority for admitting a man who identifies as a woman.

Represented by the Independent Women’s Law Center (IWLC), the sisters argued their case before a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver on Tuesday. 

The women are alleging that the sorority’s decision in fall 2022 to admit a man, Artemis Langford, violated its bylaws, which state that all members be women. The sisters have also said that Langford has harassed them in their sorority house by watching them change, taking photos, and asking “invasive” sexual questions. 

Allie Coghan, a Kappa Kappa Gamma alumna from the class of 2023 and one of the plaintiffs in the suit, told CNA that Langford’s admission into the sorority caused her and her sisters to feel very unsafe in their own home.

“We never used to lock our doors at night. I would sleep with my door open all the time and then all of a sudden it became me locking my door and just hoping that I wouldn’t hear heavy footsteps in the hallway while I’m sleeping because I knew who it would be,” she explained. “All of a sudden it became very uncomfortable to go to the bathroom and shower because you never know who’s going to be sitting there waiting or watching.”

Coghan said that some of her friends in the sorority caught Langford staring at them when coming out of the shower and that there were other instances that made them feel very scared.

“In the sorority house, there are women who have been sexually assaulted in the past, and so that’s why living in a sorority house is so comforting to them,” she explained. “It’s just a safe haven, and they were stripped of that. We were all stripped of it.”

Rather than listening to their fears and negative experiences, Coghan said, the sorority began ostracizing anyone who disapproved of Langford’s admission, labeling them “transphobic” and using “bullying tactics” to pressure them to agree.  

“Sororities are not meant to be political. One of the beautiful things about it is all the diversity that is in there,” she said, adding that “the one thing that holds us all together is that we are all women.”

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In August 2023 federal Judge Alan Johnson dismissed the sisters’ lawsuit on the grounds that a woman is clearly defined in the sorority’s bylaws and is thus open to the group’s interpretation. 

The six sisters appealed the decision to the 10th Circuit Court in October, continuing to argue that Kappa Kappa Gamma “subverted their own bylaws and other governing documents and did so in bad faith by changing their membership criteria.” 

On Tuesday the three-judge panel appeared skeptical that they had jurisdiction to rule on the case. The panel pointed out that the lower court’s dismissal left open limited grounds for the sisters to refile their suit. 

May Mailman, an attorney for the sisters, admitted that they could possibly refile the suit but that would still not change the lower court’s decision that Kappa Kappa Gamma can interpret its bylaws to include biological men. 

Natalie McLaughlin, the attorney for Kappa Kappa Gamma, meanwhile maintained that the sorority is entitled to interpret its definition of a woman however it pleases.

A representative for Kappa Kappa Gamma told CNA that it “will continue to vigorously defend against attempts by plaintiffs to use the judicial system to take away a private organization’s fundamental rights and cause lasting damage to individuals and to our membership.”

“Today, Kappa Kappa Gamma defended in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado our right as a private organization to interpret our bylaws and standing rules,” the representative said, adding: “We are confident the federal court will uphold the decisive ruling of a federal judge in Wyoming and bring a swift resolution to this matter.”

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Outside the courthouse, the Independent Women’s Forum and several other groups held a “Save Sisterhood” rally in which biological women’s sports activist Riley Gaines and several members of Kappa Kappa Gamma spoke out in support of the sisters’ lawsuit. 

Hannah Holtmeier, a current Kappa Kappa Gamma member and one of the plaintiffs in the case, also spoke at the rally, saying: “I can attest to the toll it takes on young women mentally knowing that at any point I could step out of the bathroom or walk out of the shower to a 6’2’’, 260-pound man is terrifying.” 

“To girls across our great country, and their mothers and fathers, if you think you’re in a situation where this won’t affect you, think again,” she went on. “Odds are if we don’t speak up to at least define women’s spaces, you, your daughter, or any other woman in your life will be affected.”