On August 25, federal judge Alan Johnson of the District of Wyoming dealt a blow to sororities, women’s privacy, and the English language. He ruled that young women are not entitled to the female-only space they signed up for when joining the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, in part because Kappa bylaws do not define the term “women.”

This decision arises after several students from the Wyoming chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma sued the national organization for pressuring the chapter to admit a biological male in defiance of the sorority’s bylaws, which require every new member to be a “woman.” Kappa was founded in 1870 specifically to give women opportunities previously denied them. Greek-letter societies had long helped male students build bonds and establish life-long professional connections, and Kappa’s founders believed that college women should be given the same opportunities. The plaintiffs believe that admitting a male student undermines Kappa’s purpose “[t]o unite women, through membership, in a close bond of friendship.”

In his ruling, Judge Johnson mocks Kappa’s founders, today’s young women, and common sense when he suggests that the term “women” as used in the bylaws is undefined and, therefore, might include biological men. 

That’s ridiculous. The founders of the Kappa Kappa Gamma organization never dreamed they needed to define the term “women” in order to preserve the single-sex status of their fraternal organization. No definition was needed. Everyone knew that “women” referred to adult human females.  

Had they been inclined to play word games, the Kappa founders might have decided to identify as men and force their way into the frat houses of the 1800s. But the women wanted a place of their own. 

Young women who join sororities have a reasonable expectation—especially when assured by sororities’ bylaws—that the sisterhood will be comprised of other female students, not males who identify as women. In particular here, the male-born sorority member has invaded the privacy and intimacy of the sorority home by watching the women change, taking unwanted photographs, and asking invasive sexual questions. We are disappointed that Judge Johnson doesn’t recognize that these young women are entitled to the benefits of sisterhood. But we will not give up the fight to protect single-sex college organizations.