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Lawmakers In 19 States Cloning Idaho's Transgender Athlete Bill

James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio
Chris Mosier, the first transgender athlete to qualify for an Olympic trial, visited Boise in March 2020 to protest a bill that would ban trans girls and women from competing on sex-segregated sports teams.

The law passed last year by the Idaho legislature banning transgender girls from public school girls sports remains on hold facing legal challenges, but that hasn’t scared lawmakers in other states from trying to pass their own versions of the same bill.

Feb. 3, Utah House Representative Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, introduced HB302, which would require public school athletes to play on teams which aligned only with their sex at birth.

Similar legislation has now been introduced in 19 states, according to the Equality Foundation, a LGBTQ+ advocacy organization.

“Idaho's passage of this bill was really just a moment that taught other states that this is a bill that maybe they should move forward on,” said Equality Federation Director of Advocacy and Civic Engagement Vivian Topping. She called the bills, “a solution in search of a problem.”

Idaho’s law awaits legal review in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Oral arguments in that case are expected in late spring, said Courtney Chappelle, Advocacy Director at Legal Voice, which, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, is suing Governor Brad Little and the state of Idaho over HB500. That case is Hecox v. Little.

Some of the new proposed bills restricting athletic participation have language nearly identical to Idaho’s law.

Montana’s version, for example, was word-for-word the same, except lawmakers left out a section specifying how girls can “prove” their gender, a provision directly targeted as unconstitutional by the pending lawsuit.

The Montana bill — without the inspection language — was passed out of the state house on a near-party line vote and awaits a senate hearing. No other state’s proposed legislation has advanced beyond committee. Some have only been introduced and no committee hearings have been held.

“A lot of folks are looking to Idaho and seeing kind of how the court is going to rule, what particular provisions are being challenged and they are trying to be a little more careful,” Chappelle said.

Legal Voice, which operates only in the Pacific Northwest, is sharing testimony and talking points with other groups seeking to push back on these bills. Chappelle said she would not be surprised to see other like-minded organizations bring legal challenges if any of these bills become law, as Idaho’s did.

States proposing this legislation are now at odds with the Biden Administration. Among executive orders signed within hours of taking office Jan. 20, one affirmed the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, tying anti-discrimination provisions in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the 2020 Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County.

The court determined in its decision “because of ... sex” covered discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. The President ordered a review across the federal government of all policies and procedures not in alignment with the court's decision.

Topping, of the Equality Federation, said, “it is really rewarding and wonderful to see an administration that is working to continue inclusion and to ensure that transgender folks and other LGBTQ folks across the country feel seen by their government.”

Chappelle called the order symbolic, but was more cautious when predicting how it might play into legislation proposed in many state houses this winter.

“Whether or not it will prevent states from moving forward with these bills; I'm not sure it will do that but I think it helps in terms of changing the cultural narrative.”

Per the Equality Federation, there are 23 pieces of legislation dealing with athletic participation restrictions for transgender people in 19 states.

Follow Troy Oppie on Twitter @GoodBadOppie for more local news.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

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