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Politics & Government

Idaho LGBTQ Advocates Push Back Against Trans Athlete Ban Bill

James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

LGBTQ groups came out in force to oppose a bill that would ban transgender women in Idaho from competing on sports teams that align with their gender identity.



For the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Barbara Ehardt (R-Idaho Falls), it’s a matter of fairness in sports. She believes people who are born biologically male have inherent physical advantages over those who are born female.


“Allowing boys and men to compete against girls and women shatters our dreams and, keep this in mind, allowing boys and men to compete against girls and women reverses nearly 50 years [of] advances as women,” Ehardt said.


Under her bill, transgender girls and women wouldn’t be allowed to play on a team segregated by sex. Idaho public schools and universities currently allow trans women to play on these teams if they’ve been on testosterone suppressing therapy for at least a year.


When asked if this has become an issue in Idaho, Ehardt responded, “That hasn’t happened yet, but it’s just around the corner,” noting that controversies are popping up nationwide.


But Kathy Griesmyer, with the ACLU of Idaho, said this proposal is clearly unconstitutional.


For instance, the burden would be on athletes to prove their gender through several medical exams or tests if a fellow student, teacher or parent were to question whether that person was born biologically male or female.


“This bill would call upon doctors to participate in government-ordered discrimination by subjecting select students to invasive, traumatic and expensive medical testing,” Griesmyer said.


She said her group is ready to sue the state if this proposal becomes law.


Others affiliated with organizations like Add The Words and the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence also spoke out against the bill.


Annie Hightower, ICASDV’s legal director, said any kind of examination of a student-athlete’s genitals “may rise to the level of sexual violence against any girl whose sex is questioned in the context of sports.”


Two others affiliated with the conservative Madison Liberty Institute in Rexburg backed the transgender athlete ban. Lindsey Zea, a policy and research associate with the group, said there’s a reason Title IX, the federal education law that requires schools to offer similar athletic opportunities to men and women, was created in the 1970s.


“Although men and women are equal in value – every person is – we are unequal in ability,” Zea said. “This is why we have distinguished a difference between women’s teams and boys’ teams in sports.”


Her colleague, Amanda Penrod, also cited the case of a pair of female transgender track athletes in Connecticut who have broken several high school records. Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood are the subject of a federal lawsuit brought by the families of three students who hope to block their participation at track meets.


The Pacific Justice Institute, an organization labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, also defended Ehardt’s proposal. PJI’s president, Brad Dacus, once compared the failure to pass a ballot initiative that would ban same sex marriage to failing to stop Hitler.


One of the group’s attorneys, Ray Hacke, summed up a theme held up across testimony from the bill’s supporters: the sex a person is assigned at birth carries inherent distinctions that can’t be overcome through any kind of transitional or gender affirming therapy.


“A boy who claims he’s a girl is quite different from an actual, biological girl. That’s just a fact,” Hacke said.

Scientists and sporting organizations have struggled with the issue. The International Olympic Committee, for example, requires transgender women to keep testosterone levels under a certain limit before being allowed to compete on a team that aligns with their gender identity.

A proposal to cut that level in half before the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo has been shelved for now.


A public hearing on the bill will continue Thursday morning.


Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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