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Transgender Athlete Ban Bill Advances To Idaho House

Thomas Hawk

A bill banning transgender women from competing on sports teams that align with their gender identity is headed to the full Idaho House after a party line vote. The House State Affairs Committee approved the measure Thursday morning.



It would bar any transgender girl or woman from playing on a team that matches their gender identity. Transgender boys and men would not be affected.


Right now, the Idaho High School Activities Association and NCAA policy allows transgender girls and women to play on girls’ or women’s teams if they’ve been on testosterone suppression drugs for at least one year.


Testimony over the course of two days overwhelmingly opposed the bill from Rep. Barbara Ehardt (R-Idaho Falls) with several LGBTQ organizations saying it would further ostracize a vulnerable minority group.


Boise resident Diane Terhune has a transgender daughter, whom she urged committee members not to “fear or vilify because she’s different.”


“It’s because legislation like House Bill 500 puts roadblocks in front of young people that keep them from assimilating into society,” Terhune said.


If a high school or college student athlete is thought to be competing on a women’s team, according to the bill, that person would have to verify their gender through a physical examination of their genitals, as well as blood and chromosomal testing.


Such tests are invasive and not part of routine physicals that athletes have to complete before competing, according to the three Democrats on the committee who bashed the bill. 


Dr. Jessica Duvall, a local pediatrician, backed that up. Duvall said such testing is not recommended for student athletes by the American Academy of Pediatrics, or any other medical association.


“This bill asks doctors to perform procedures way outside of the standards of care. Moreover, even if the tests were performed against medical society norms, more often than not they do not yield clear, easily interpreted results,” Duvall said.


For the second day in a row, supporters of the bill raised a federal lawsuit in Connecticut brought by parents of high school track athletes. They say two transgender girls there who have recently racked up state records are edging out other girls from winning titles and scholarship opportunities.


Meridian Resident Michelle Fayant, a powerlifting champion who says she’s a lifelong Democrat, said she might’ve abandoned her sport if transgender women would’ve been allowed to compete alongside her.


“Had I not had the hope of becoming a world champion, because I knew I would be competing against male bodies, I’m not sure I would’ve had the drive to compete like I did or train like I did,” Fayant said.


A new study published in the Journal of Medical Ethics published last year suggests that transgender women – particularly those who have already undergone puberty – still retain physical advantages over cis-gendered women, or those who were born biologically female.


Those include having testosterone levels that are up to six times higher than the typical cis-gendered woman —  even with hormone therapy — as well as having larger hearts and sturdier bones that can help with strength, speed and recovery.


Still, the study concluded that inclusion of transgender athletes should be a priority. To do that, the authors suggest creating an algorithm for each sport that would match competitors based on criteria like their gender identity, size, past and present testosterone levels, socioeconomic background, among others.


Despite those possible athletic edges, Donna Harwood, who runs a pro-LGBTQ group called Lion’s Pride, said she would “jump at the chance” to compete with trans girls if she were still a kid.


“Even if transgender women do have some sort of advantage, they have disadvantages through every other point in life. Why not just let them have this one advantage, even if it’s just for a short time?”


For Ehardt, the bill’s sponsor, it’s a matter of fairness. She said she supports transgender women expressing their gender identity, but that it should be considered with other athletic eligibility requirements, like GPA, school boundaries and age.


“These are all things that our Idaho High School Activities Association already mandates and are we saying they are not in a position to do so and that all of these things just mentioned should be based on how one feels?”


Transgender advocates decry the idea that one’s gender identity fluctuates based on how they “feel.” They’ll have to convince the entire House of that, which will take up the issue next.


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

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!