On Dec. 2, 2022, Todd Schmidt, an elder at Laramie Faith Community Church, set up a table in the UW student union with a sign that read, "God created male and female and Artemis Langford is a male." Langford is a transgender student who joined the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority earlier that year. This move prompted members to sue the national Greek organization for accepting a biological male into the all-female group.
Students crowded around his table blocking his message from sight until Dean Ryan O'Neil, a UW administrator, asked Schmidt to remove the student's name from his sign. He initially refused but complied after they threatened to call the police on him. Schmidt continued to debate with students passing by for the remainder of that day.
Photo credits: Preston Harrison
"I'm just trying to tell the truth and bring people to God. That's all there is. There are not any more genders than that. Biology teaches everybody about that," Schmidt said, according to a report on the student newspaper Branding Iron, where the transgender concerned is a reporter.
The incident ultimately led to the university placing a one-year sanction on Schmidt. While he is still allowed in other areas of the campus, he can no longer reserve a table in the UW student union until the spring of 2024. (Related: Transgender training is coming to your schools.)
In a campus-wide message sent on Dec. 5, UW officials said Schmidt "violated the university policy prohibiting discrimination and harassment," noting that "a line was crossed when a student was harassed by name." The religious advocate argued that the area serves as a public forum and that his message was not harassment but First Amendment-protected speech.
On Aug. 18, a federal judge ruled that UW "appears to be favoring one viewpoint over another." In a preliminary injunction, the U.S. District Court in Wyoming sided with Schmidt, ordering the university to not ban him from tabling on campus while the case proceeds.
According to U.S. Senior District Judge Nancy Freudenthal, the inclusion of the student's name was necessary for the Christian activist to fully express his opinion. "Schmidt's speech was expressive, with the intent to convey a particular message," the judge wrote. "Schmidt mentions Artemis Langford by name, but that is unavoidable, as the debate revolves around the propriety of a particular biological male participating in an activity – joining a sorority – traditionally reserved for biological females."
"Schmidt does not misgender Langford to denigrate her, but to debate a public issue," the ruling further included. "This is particularly true on college campuses because they are the 'marketplace of ideas.' While elementary and public schools prioritize the inculcation of social values, universities seek to encourage inquiry and the challenging of a priori assumptions," Freudenthal added. "Therefore, this Court finds that Schmidt's speech is protected free expression and not harassment or discriminatory conduct."
UW said in a statement that although it is disappointed, it will comply with the terms of the preliminary injunction while weighing on whether to keep defending its policy in court.
Schmidt's message that he posted on his UW student union table triggered seven sorority sisters from the UW chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma to file a lawsuit, pointing out that the organization violated its own rules by admitting male-born Langford in September 2022. The suit was seeking damages from the national sorority. It also asked for the revocation of Langford's membership.
Langford may not live in the Kappa house, but he spends time there frequently in areas reserved for women, watching the female members as they walk into the bathroom with only a towel on or spending hours sitting on a couch "staring at them without talking," the complaint explained.
"Some plaintiffs sought to live in Kappa's single-sex environment because of religious or moral beliefs that young, unmarried women should not live with young, unmarried men," the lawsuit stated, adding that one of the plaintiffs is "a victim of sexual assault who wanted a safe place to interact with other college students without the presence of men."
Meanwhile, back in June, the national sorority filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, denouncing it as a "frivolous" attempt to remove Langford from the organization for "political purposes."
"Kappa defines its membership in its position statement adopted in 2015 as individuals who identify as women," the motion read. "Plaintiffs cannot identify any bylaw, standing rule, or policy that prohibits Kappa from taking this position, and the term is unquestionably open to multiple interpretations."
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