A trans woman joined a sorority. Then her new sisters turned on her. (2024)

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LARAMIE, Wyo. — The morning sky was still dark as Artemis Langford’s father hoisted the last of her belongings into her car for the drive back to college.

“Be safe,” he told her.

“I will,” she promised.

She didn’t mention how a day earlier, as she scrolled through social media comments, she saw someone had called her a “sicko” who should be torn apart in a woodchipper. Or how she discovered her name on neo-Nazi websites. Or how news stories about her had been posted on a forum for gun owners, alongside a hangman’s noose.

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It wasn’t what she imagined last year when she joined Kappa Kappa Gamma at the University of Wyoming, becoming the first transgender woman in the state to be inducted into a sorority. She thought she had finally found sisterhood and a place to belong after years of shame and loneliness.

Instead, she became a target.

Right-wing pundits portrayed her on national television as a predator — as a perverted man who faked his way into a sorority to leer at women. Death threats followed. Strangers began stalking her. Police assigned extra patrols to the sorority house.

But the most hurtful accusations came this past spring. That’s when Artemis discovered members of her sorority — seven sisters out of the 40-some members — were working with lawyers to oust her. On March 27, they filed a lawsuit in federal court against Artemis and Kappa Kappa Gamma.

“Hate from strangers is one thing,” Artemis said. “It was a gut punch after working so hard to get in to realize there were people who never wanted me there in the first place.”

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Over the summer, she thought about quitting but decided against it — for herself, for the precedent it could set for other trans students and for the sisterhood she still hoped to find.

So on an early morning in late August, Artemis, wearing a black dress and denim jacket, got in her car, shut the door and backed out of her father’s driveway. She drove quickly, not stopping once in six hours to eat or use the bathroom. She worried how others in rural Wyoming might perceive her.

“I don’t pass well,” she said. “I’ve always been tall and heavy.”

It was almost noon by the time she reached campus. She and chapter leaders had agreed that she shouldn’t live in the sorority house, for her safety and theirs. But when she reached her assigned dorm, the parking lot was jam-packed, so Artemis reluctantly pulled into a space on Greek Row.

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Just steps away sat the Kappa house. Along one wall hung a painted banner. “This is so the happy place,” it read in big black letters.

It took five trips to her car to unload everything. As she was standing in the parking lot, figuring out what to do about dinner, she saw them walking toward her — two of the Kappa sisters from the lawsuit against her.

Artemis turned away, but they had already spotted her and began whispering. As they passed, the two girls shot Artemis a look of disgust. She stared down at her phone, pretending not to notice. But the encounter left her shaken.

It felt like confirmation of her worst fears — that this semester would be no different, no less awful.

“Do I even have a place in Kappa anymore?” she asked herself. “Is it worth fighting for?”

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A ‘forever home’

As a freshman, Artemis had listened to a friend describe life in a sorority. It sounded nothing like the movie stereotypes of keg parties and elaborate hazing. Her friend talked of being supported through tough times, helping philanthropic causes, finding a “forever home” she could rely on for the rest of her life.

Artemis remembers dismissing the idea with a laugh.

“Well, no sorority would ever have a trans person,” she said.

“Mine would,” her friend quickly replied.

For weeks, Artemis couldn’t shake that vision of a “forever home.”

Her social circle at UW at the time skewed heavily toward other LGBTQ+ students. Just weeks earlier, one of them — a fellow transgender student — had killed themself. Artemis was among the first to discover the body in the dorm and called 911. Soon after, another friend attempted suicide but survived.

Artemis had tried taking her own life, too, as a child and teenager. Now her LGBTQ+ community in Laramie, fragile to start, was fracturing.

She hungered for the support her sorority friend had described.

A history major, she started researching the origins of American sororities. The earliest began in the 19th century, when few women attended colleges. They often found themselves alone and denigrated, and they banded together to prove themselves equal to men.

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Artemis saw her own life in their stories. Fitting in had never come easily.

She grew up in a devoutly Mormon family. She watched Bill O’Reilly and Fox News on her grandfather’s lap. She was taught as a child how to shoot a gun and that there’s no place in heaven for gay people.

But even as a small child, Artemis felt something wrong inside.

When doctors diagnosed her on the autistic spectrum at age 8, she thought that was the reason. It wasn’t until eighth grade, when she began questioning her gender, that she felt she had found an answer. She remembered staying up one night in 2016 and praying for hours. She begged God to take away her pain and confusion. To make her like other boys at school. Or if not, to give her a sign that the woman she felt inside was real.

As morning dawned, she felt enveloped in an eerie but comforting silence and saw that as God’s reply.

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She created a spreadsheet of people she planned to come out to. Knowing her transition wouldn’t be welcomed by her family or the Mormon Church, she created another spreadsheet and began trying out other places of worship.

As a sophom*ore at UW, she decided it was time for a new spreadsheet. She started researching campus sororities and their official LGBTQ+ policies and contacted them one by one. Among the core values for Kappa women, she was told, was “the trailblazing spirit.”

That’s me, she decided.

The bid to get in was difficult. Her autism made socializing overwhelming, so she brainstormed questions to come off as friendly and interested in others.

She still counts the day she was accepted into Kappa as among the happiest in her life. But within hours, the backlash began.

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‘Not the place for any man’

Artemis was still at the sorority house on acceptance day when a stranger messaged her on Instagram.

“Hi, sorry this is strange,” the message read. “But I just got [an email] relating to kappa kappa gamma that’s about you and I feel like you should know.”

The mother of a current member had misfired an email intended for Kappa alumni to a woman in Australia. The mother was begging alumni to object to Artemis’s induction.

“I am writing to you as a concerned parent,” the email began. “The chapter has extended a bid (open recruitment) to a TRANSGENDER (born male that is still a man) individual and he has accepted today.”

The mother continued: “I don’t know where you sit morally on this subject and I am not hom*ophobic. … However a SORORITY (designed in the 1800s as an ALL woman club) is NOT THE PLACE FOR ANY MAN or person who is not born female. That is what FRATERNITIES are for.”

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The mother ended her email with a screenshot of Artemis’s Instagram profile, saying: “Please see the attachment. … There’s something wrong with this person.”

The stranger in Australia said she felt someone should warn Artemis. “I’m totally disgusted by what this person is saying,” her message read. “I hope this doesn’t cause you too much distress to read, but I couldn’t not let you know.”

Artemis shared the email with her new sorority leaders, who promised to deal with it. She tried to stay calm, but it felt like a warning.

Within weeks, her name was making the rounds on conservative news outlets. One called her a “trans-identified biological male.” Another, the National Review, quoted an anonymous Kappa sister, saying she felt pressured by leaders to vote Artemis in. The magazine described her as “a tall, heavier man with facial hair” and quoted the anonymous sister saying that “he has made no efforts to physically look like a girl.”

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For the next year, the media coverage continued in waves, dying down only to overwhelm her again.

On Fox News, newly hired network contributor Caitlyn Jenner called Artemis “a perverted, sexually deviant male.” A column in the Daily Mail by Meghan McCain — the daughter of the late U.S. senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) — called Artemis an active threat. “Let’s call this what it is — an invasion of women’s spaces by biological men under the guise of acceptance,” she wrote.

With each story and TV segment, violent and alarming messages would flood Artemis’s phone.


“Artemis Langford better fear for his life.”

“I miss the days when they would just kill themselves.”

A friend gave her a device with a wailing alarm and strobe light to deter attackers.

A trans woman joined a sorority. Then her new sisters turned on her. (7)

“It was a scary time for all of us,” said Grace Hardin, 21, who lived in Artemis’s dorm, “especially when the stalking began.”

Users posted Artemis’s movements on Yik Yak, an anonymous app popular on some college campuses. “The Kappa man is at Walmart” and “The Kappa man is going to Kappa house,” the messages read.

The death threats sparked alarm in the university’s small but vibrant LGBTQ+ community.

“You could feel the tension on campus,” said Tanner Ewalt, 21, a member of the Queer Community Coalition student group. The club tried to hold a vigil, changing the location at least twice because of safety concerns before finally holding it off campus.

For many, the death threats dredged up uncomfortable echoes of Laramie’s past.

It was 25 years ago in this same town that two men abducted a gay student named Matthew Shepard. They tied him to a split-rail fence, pistol-whipped him, set him on fire and left him to die. When authorities found him, his head was entirely covered in blood except for a track of tears on either side of his face.

A trans woman joined a sorority. Then her new sisters turned on her. (8)
A trans woman joined a sorority. Then her new sisters turned on her. (9)

His death became one of the most infamous hate crimes in U.S. history and sparked plays, documentaries, gay rights campaigns and new laws across the country — except in Wyoming.

Wyoming remains one of only two states that hasn’t enacted legislation against hate crimes. And the only physical marker remaining on campus of Shepard’s death is a plain park bench with his name, in front of the arts and sciences building.

“I don’t think the university and wider community have fully grappled with it,” said Ewalt, who is from Casper, Wyo., the same town as Shepard.

He and Artemis often debated, late into the night, whether they should stay. “Some days it feels like this place isn’t safe and is actively aggressive towards me,” Ewalt said. “Other times, like Artemis often argues … we grew up here. We have every right to be here.”

Last year, after a shooter attacked Club Q — a Colorado Springs gay bar a three-hour drive from Laramie — Ewalt decided to buy a gun and prepare a “go” bag to flee at a moment’s notice. He urged Artemis to do the same.

But by December, such measures seemed unnecessary. Things were dying down. Conservative news outlets had moved on to other controversies. “I survived the worst of it,” Artemis told herself.

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The church elder

Then on Dec. 2, Artemis was working in the student union at the campus newspaper, where she was a reporter, when a sorority sister called and warned her not to come out.

Just steps away, near the entrance, students began gathering around a table festooned with a white vinyl banner. Big plastic letters spelled out its message in black:


So Artemis kept the office lights off and sat in the dark, unsure what to do.

A trans woman joined a sorority. Then her new sisters turned on her. (11)

The man who put up the sign was arguing with students. Alerted by group text, other sorority sisters turned up and decided to huddle in front of the sign to block it from view, while someone called the dean’s office for help.

“It was this horrible thing happening,” Artemis said, “and at the same time, it was amazing to see my sisters standing up for me when I was scared.”

When the dean arrived, the man refused to remove the sign but eventually agreed to take down Artemis’s name.

He was an elder at a local church with no ties to the university but was well known on campus. For years, Todd Schmidt had been renting out a table in the student union from which he often railed against abortion, covid restrictions, evolution and hom*osexuality.

He would later say that his sign on Dec. 2 was inspired by a Bible verse from Genesis and “not designed to target Artemis Langford personally.”

Three days later, the university president issued a campuswide letter, saying administrators had done all they could and Schmidt was free to return to campus and post his signs.

The administrators’ refusal to remove Schmidt from campus drew protest and denunciations on the university’s social media accounts.

“A queer student at UW was put in DANGER, yet this man was only asked to remove the name of said student,” one comment read. “Considering the loss of a trans student by suicide just last school year, maybe we should take this kind of behavior a bit more seriously.”

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“Students shouldn’t have to step in to protect other students,” said another.

More than 300 alumni submitted a letter threatening to withhold donations and detailing other times Schmidt had harassed students over their gender and sexual identities. Soon after, the president sent a second letter announcing a year-long ban on the church elder from renting a table in the student union.

In a phone interview, university spokesman Chad Baldwin said that decision was made after a more thorough review of Schmidt’s past actions and not in response to the petition or protest.

But that didn’t stop Schmidt from pursuing Artemis.

On the same day the university issued its ban, Schmidt went to the sorority house and rang the doorbell, looking for Artemis, according to witnesses and local news coverage. Court records show campus police issued him a trespass warning and told him not to return to the sorority house.

Reached by phone, Schmidt declined to comment, on the advice of his lawyer. At the time, he told a local paper he had just finished making a DoorDash delivery in the area and decided to try to talk to Artemis at the sorority house.

For weeks afterward, authorities sent patrols to the Kappa house. Even so, members were wary of answering the door. Sorority leaders told Kappas to stop wearing the sorority’s Greek letters and to make their social media accounts private.

“It was scary,” said one sorority member. “It felt like we were under attack.”

A trans woman joined a sorority. Then her new sisters turned on her. (13)

‘Mr. Smith’

A few months later, Artemis was walking to evening church services when a reporter from a conservative outlet messaged her through Facebook about a lawsuit that had just been filed. She asked Artemis for comment.

Artemis just kept walking as her mind raced. Later, back in her dorm room, she scrolled feverishly through a copy she found online.

The complaint was filed to the U.S. District Court of Wyoming in Cheyenne. Seven sorority sisters, suing anonymously as Jane Does, accused Artemis in lurid detail of threatening and perverse behavior.

It said Artemis only posed as a transgender woman to get into the sorority, referring to her throughout as “he” or “him” or by the pseudonym “Mr. Smith.”

As she read the allegations, Artemis felt angry and betrayed. “Some parts were completely made up,” she said. “Others were things I remember but in their version was twisted to look weird, gross, sexual.”

Many passages felt deeply personal, as though those filing the lawsuit could sense her deepest anxieties.

She was still learning to dress as a woman and had been able to afford only a few long dresses that reflected her modest Mormon upbringing.

The lawsuit took note: “Other than occasionally wearing women’s clothing, Mr. Smith makes little effort to resemble a woman.”

“Mr. Smith is 6’2” tall, and he weighs 260 pounds. No other member of Kappa Kappa Gamma has comparable size or strength.”

Other accusations homed in on the social awkwardness that Artemis says was partly a symptom of her autism.

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“He has several times chosen to sit for hours on the couch in the second-floor common area. He does not study. He does not speak to the women who live there.”

In one of the most explicit passages, the lawsuit alleged, “Mr. Smith has, while watching members enter the sorority house, had an erection visible through his leggings. Other times he has had a pillow in his lap.”

There was a slumber party at the sorority. Artemis — who attended but didn’t sleep over, because she didn’t live at the Kappa house — returned in the morning, according to the lawsuit, and stood silently in a corner while others changed out of their pajamas.

The lawsuit said one sister, who objected to Artemis’s membership, was facing away from the group when she took off her shirt without a bra. According to the lawsuit, another member later told the sister “that while watching her, Mr. Smith had become sexually aroused. He stood by the door with his hands over his genitals.”

Artemis said that didn’t happen, and court records would later bolster her claim. In text messages submitted to court by her attorney, another sister, who was watching at the time, told the complaining sorority member that there was no erection. The woman texted in reply, “Damn that sucks,” adding that even so, she still felt Artemis was “creepy in other ways at least.”

A trans woman joined a sorority. Then her new sisters turned on her. (14)

‘Spying and fighting’

Paranoia quickly spread through the Kappa house. For weeks, no one knew which sisters among the chapter’s 40-some members were behind the lawsuit.

“It was bad, the accusations, the spying and fighting,” said one of four sorority sisters who described in interviews how the lawsuit gradually tore their chapter apart. Two of the four sisters supported Artemis, and two said they were neutral about her membership. All spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by the sorority or fellow members.

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Help for trans people in crisis

If you or someone you know is transgender and needs help, call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860. You can also reach crisis counselors at The Trevor Project for LGBTQ youth by calling 866-488-7386 or texting “START” to 678678, and by calling the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.

To support a trans person going through a tough time: Learn as much as you can about the trans experience. Offer a safe space to talk and listen. Validate and affirm their feelings. Ask how you can help. Know what resources exist.

In recent years, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation have reached historic highs, especially among children and teens. Trans teens experience among the highest rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts because of the hostility they face. Major medical and pediatric organizations are concerned the mental health crises could worsen as states increasingly consider anti-trans bills.


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One sister said she blocked several members of her house on Instagram. “It became 100 percent clear some in the house were collecting information to use against others.”

Eventually at least two sisters revealed that they were part of the lawsuit, because they began pressuring others to support their cause, sisters said.

One Kappa, who supported Artemis, said she was harassed and secretly recorded by the sisters who filed the lawsuit. She wrote to the federal judge in charge of the case, pleading for him to take away their anonymity so they could be held accountable for their actions.

“I almost dropped out of college last semester due to the harassment. … It is unfair that we have to live like this while they ruin people’s lives,” she told the judge.

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In April, the judge agreed, requiring the plaintiffs to reveal their names. But that only escalated the acrimony.

A few nights before the spring initiation ceremony — one of the chapter’s most sacred and joyous rituals — the lawsuit plaintiffs walked in en masse, wearing matching black sweatshirts, emblazoned with the name of the law firm they hired to sue their own sorority.

The sisters in the lawsuit created a legal fund on a Christian crowdfunding website, raising more than $60,000. “Men who identify as women are invading women’s spaces — sports teams, sororities … women social organizations and girls schools,” their page read. “The list keeps growing.”

Then, on May 16, the sisters and their lawyer denounced the sorority to millions of viewers on Fox News. They also talked on camera in an hour-long program with conservative SiriusXM host Megyn Kelly.

“It’s a weird, gut-wrenching feeling that every time I leave my room, there’s a possibility that I’ll walk past him in the hall, whatever setting that may be in,” said one sister.

“I refuse to allow subverting my rights as a woman to cater towards the comfort of a man,” declared a sorority sister who was a witness in the lawsuit.

“Yes, right on, sister. Fight! Fight!” Kelly urged them in response. “I think this is a guy who’s just getting off on living with these beautiful women.”

The sisters laughed.

Their lawyer, Cassie Craven, interjected, “A lot of friends tell me, ‘If I knew it was this easy to get into a sorority house, I would have put on a skirt a long time ago.’”

The sisters alleged that the sorority’s vote on Artemis — using an online form that required their email addresses — was unusual and made them feel that if they didn’t approve Artemis, the sorority would “publicly label them bigots.”

On camera, Craven described Artemis’s initiation as part of a leftist “woke agenda.” The lawsuit’s “fundamental point … is the fact that being a woman is about more than a pronoun,” she said.

Craven and the sisters suing declined requests for an interview and to answer questions but said in a written statement: “Women for generations have benefitted from the safety, privacy, camaraderie, and common experience of single-sex organizations and housing. Future generations deserve that as well.”

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In the wake of the interviews, infighting at the Kappa house reached a boiling point.

“People were losing sleep, having panic attacks and mental breakdowns,” said one sorority member who was not involved in the lawsuit.

A sorority sister wrote to the university president and dean of students pleading for help. “The student body is mocking us, the university is staying silent, and the random people from all over the U.S. are finding our socials and harassing us.”

In response, university administrators sent an independent investigator to examine whether harassment was occurring in violation of Title IX rules against sex discrimination, but the sorority never heard from the investigator again after his initial interviews.

“The university takes all Title IX complaints seriously,” said Baldwin, the UW spokesman. “It has been and will continue to be engaged in such investigations.”

At stake, sisters on both sides said, was much more than Artemis’s membership.

“It’s easy for Kappas to say they’re for trailblazing women,” said a current sorority sister. “But it’s what you do that shows who you are and what you stand for.”

A trans woman joined a sorority. Then her new sisters turned on her. (16)

‘Waiting for the other shoe to drop’

As she hung up clothes in her new dorm room after her arrival on campus, Artemis couldn’t stop thinking about one comment from the Megyn Kelly interview.

You can put lipstick on a pig, but that doesn’t make it a lady, the suing sisters’ attorney had said.

“I wish it didn’t matter to me. All the things they said. How they painted me like a mannish freak,” Artemis said quietly.

The start of fall classes was just three days away, and she felt deeply uneasy.

A longtime mentor came that day to check on her — Sara Burlingame, the head of LGBTQ+ group Wyoming Equality. Burlingame drove her to Walmart to buy new clothes and room decorations.

“You anxious about next week?” Burlingame, who had known Artemis since high school, asked on their way back to the dorm. She knew how Artemis hated attracting attention.

Artemis sat quietly for a moment in Burlingame’s car. “I’m mostly dreading and waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

A trans woman joined a sorority. Then her new sisters turned on her. (17)

Later that afternoon, when Artemis stopped by the student union to pick up books, a staffer at the university’s LGBTQ+ pride center pulled her aside.

“I don’t know if you heard,” the staffer said. Over the summer, the church elder had sued to overturn the university’s ban on him from the student union. Just days earlier, he’d won his case in court.

“He’ll be back with his signs next week. And every week after that on Friday,” the university worker said. “I’m sorry.”

The staffer’s warning played in Artemis’s head as she walked through campus. She passed the wooden bench with Matthew Shepard’s name. At one point, amid the death threats, she had joked with a friend that if anything were to happen to her, they could add a bench nearby with her name on it.

She passed her sorority house and glanced through the window. She was now in many ways a Kappa in name only. She reached her dorm and rode the creaky elevator up to her floor.

The next day, Artemis was sitting on her bed when her cellphone began to ring.

It was her attorney, Rachel Berkness. She sounded out of breath.

“I don’t know everything, but I got an email notice the case has been closed,” Berkness said.

Together over the phone, they found an online copy of the judge’s ruling and began scrolling through it.


The first thing they noticed were the pronouns — “she,” “her” — used by Judge Alan B. Johnson, an 84-year-old man who had been appointed during the Reagan administration.

The judge complained of having to wade through a lengthy “meandering” complaint in which the suing sorority sisters only “devote four-and-a-half pages to their actual claims.” He described some of their arguments as “plainly inaccurate.” He warned them that if they appealed or refiled the lawsuit they “should not copy and paste their complaint,” because of its weak arguments.

“With its inquiry beginning and ending there, the court will not define ‘woman’ today,” the judge concluded.

As soon as Artemis hung up with her lawyer, she called her father, one of the few family members to support her. “You don’t have to worry,” she told him. She dialed the chapter president and gushed: “I can’t believe it’s finally over. I was so worried for the chapter.”

A trans woman joined a sorority. Then her new sisters turned on her. (18)
A trans woman joined a sorority. Then her new sisters turned on her. (19)

She called Ewalt. “The fact that this happened in a federal court in freaking Wyoming of all places. I can’t believe it!” she said. The national headquarters of Kappa Kappa Gamma sent a statement to The Washington Post applauding the judge’s “thoughtful and decisive ruling” upholding “a private organization’s right to choose their members.”

In the weeks that followed, Artemis would see online fliers for a campuswide event “to protect women’s rights from those who pretend to be women.” She’d flee in fear one night as Schmidt pursued her from the student union to her dorm. She’d arrive at the Kappa house another night to find it littered with painted rocks and sidewalk graffiti saying “Get men out” and “Artemis is a man.” She’d receive a court notice that the suing sisters planned to appeal their case.

But for now, Artemis collapsed on her bed. She felt hopeful for the first time in months.

“Maybe I can just be another student on campus, another regular sister in the Wyoming chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma,” she said.

“Maybe I can just be me.”

She didn’t know what that would look like or feel like. Still, alone in her dorm room, she started yelling with relief and excitement.

About this story

Design and development by Talia Trackim. Design editing by Christian Font. Photo editing by Mark Miller. Story editing by Sydney Trent. Research by Alice Crites. Copy editing by Colleen Neely and J.J. Evans.

A trans woman joined a sorority. Then her new sisters turned on her. (2024)
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