“A root canal would be more pleasurable than trying to get men out of a sorority.”

The crowd on the steps of Byron White Courthouse giggles at May Mailman’s quip, brandishing “Save Sisterhood” signs for the media cameras below.

Mailman is the director of the Independent Women’s Law Center and lead counsel in the appeal of Westenbroek v. Kappa Kappa Gamma — the case accusing the national sorority of improperly initiating a man.

Gathered around Mailman are women of all different careers, ages and ideologies — but each of them made their way to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on May 14 for one reason: to advocate for women’s single-sex spaces and opportunities.

The Appellants

To the left of the press podium stand four of the case’s appellants — Hannah Holtmeier, Maddie Ramar, Allie Coghan and Jaylyn Westenbroek. All four were members of Kappa Kappa Gamma (KKG) at the University of Wyoming when their chapter initiated Artemis Langford, a man who “identifies” as a woman, in December 2022.

The women attended oral arguments for their appeal that morning, listening at KKG’s lawyer, Natalie McLaughlin told judges, “[The word] ‘woman’ is unquestionably undefined.”

It’s easy for McLaughlin to say, having never shared access to a sorority house with a male stranger. The women who allegedly experienced sexual harassment and emotional distress following Langford’s admission, on the other hand, describe their experience with word like “ignored”, “belittled”, “gaslit” and “terrified.”

When I asked Holtmeier what it felt like to hear [McLaughlin’s] arguments, she called it “a slap in the face.”

Ramar added,

The lawyer for our organization — Kappa Kappa Gamma — is saying it can interpret woman however it wants. But that’s not why sororities were created. They were created for sisterhood because, back in that day, a lot of women didn’t go to college. So for [McLaughlin] to say the word ‘woman’ can be interpreted however they want, and that men can be allowed in our space — like Hannah said, it was a slap in the face. By our own headquarters.
The Alumnae

The appellants aren’t the only members burned by KKG. The organization booted Cheryl Tuck-Smith and Patsy Levang from their ranks for supporting sex-based membership restrictions.

I met Cheryl and her sister, Teema Tuck-McIntosh, in line for the courthouse. Both members themselves, the sisters are related to multiple generations of Kappas. Cheerful and kind, it was nonetheless clear their sorority’s callus treatment of Cheryl and its own bylaws saddens the pair deeply.

Far from being cowed, however, Cheryl says her exile from the organization only fueled her desire to alert other alumnae to its subterfuge. Starting with ten or twelve supportive sisters, according to Cheryl, the number of alumnae supporting the case against KKG has mushroomed. More than 450 signed a Friend of the Court brief supporting Westenbroek’s appeal.

To Cheryl, there’s no ambiguity in KKG’s bylaws.

“When Kappa’s founder put in the bylaws that this is a fraternity for women, there was no confusion in 1870 over what a woman was,” she muses sardonically into the microphone.

The Empathetic Activist

Activist and former NCAA swimmer Riley Gaines has similarly little patience for KKG’s prevarication on womanhood.

When I asked Gaines what similarities she sees between herself and the plaintiffs, she replied,

The unwillingness of the larger organizations — in my case the NCAA and in their case Kappa Kappa Gamma — to take accountability and responsibility. I think what we saw in this courtroom today is that these larger governing bodies want to pawn off responsibility. They don’t want to be sitting here having to define what this word ‘woman’ actually means.

The NCAA famously forced Gaines and her teammates to race against Lia Thomas — a man who spent three years on Penn State’s men’s swim team before “identifying” as a woman. A testament to her prowess, Gaines tied with Thomas in a critical race.

She recalls officials giving the trophy to Thomas for “photo purposes.”

The backlash she received for speaking out against men in women’s sports is similar to the backlash the women of KKG are receiving for questioning Langford’s membership, she says.

As it pertains to what we face as plaintiffs, the vitriol that we’re up against [is the same]. The emotional toll, the gas-lighting that we face from the media, from our government, from elected officials, from corporate America, from academia — all of these [that], as a whole, have seemingly taken the other side — [is the same].
The Feminists

Gaines came to Denver to support the appellants because she understands the importance of single-sex spaces, be it in a sorority or on a sports team.

Though ideologically different than some of their conservative counterparts, Lauren Bone and Kara Dansky are similarly invested in protecting women’s spaces.

“The idea that you can identify as a woman relies on conflating the idea of being female with femininity — and that is regressive and misogynistic,” Bone, the legal director of the left-leaning Women’s Liberation Front, explains to cheers.

She further cautions the media against making Westenbroek about politics.

The other side in this case wants to invoke the idea of feminism and progressivism and women’s rights groups to make this look like a partisan issue but it’s not. This is an anti-feminist attack on women, and we won’t stand for it.

Dansky, president of the American chapter of Women’s Declaration Internation, describes herself as a feminist who leans to the political left of the Democratic party. Yet she also has zero tolerance for men “identifying” as a woman — “whatever that means,” she mutters into the microphone.

“From a leftist, radical feminist perspective, so-called gender-identity is a regressive, sexist, homophobic concept that has no business being enshrined in law or policy,” she declares.

She further decries gender ideology’s erosion of women’s rights and protections.

Until recently, everyone in society seemed to understand that men who invaded women’s intimate spaces [should be] rightly shamed and charged with criminal offenses. That understanding seems to have evaporated with the embrace of gender identity.

Like Bone, and other rally attendees, she won’t stand for it.

Judges McHugh, Murphy and Federico are expected to rule on Westenbroek in the coming months. In the meantime, this author is greatly encouraged by the breadth of people committed to protecting women’s-only spaces. Such a precious interlude of simultaneous unity and common sense are hard to come by these days.

I’m hard pressed to think of that array of determined women and be anything but thankful to God.

Additional Articles and Resources

Judge Allows Man to Stay in Sorority

Anchor Calls Male Accused of Sexual Impropriety a ‘Very Brave Woman’

Women File Appeal in Case of Man Joining Sorority

Sorority Who Admitted Man Kicks Out Two Alumnae for Supporting Women

The Sorority Who Initiated a Man is Being Sued Again — For Initiating Another Man.