Idaho Laws Rolling Back Transgender Rights Take Effect Amid Legal Scrutiny

Jul 1, 2020

Two new laws have just gone into effect in Idaho that target transgender residents, coming on the heels of a major U.S. Supreme Court decision that greatly expanded LGBTQ rights.

Earlier this year, as the bills came before Idaho’s legislature, protesters rallied outside the state capitol in Boise.

Under one bill, a doctor would face up to life in prison if they prescribed hormones or performed sex reassignment surgery on someone under 18.

Another would ban transgender people from changing the sex on their birth certificate and the third bars transgender girls and women from playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

“We are trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Chris Mosier, the first transgender person to qualify for an Olympic trial. “We are not seeing widespread domination by transgender women and girls.”

Mosier was at that rally in Boise to urge state lawmakers to block these bills.

“This is not just about transgender athletes. This is the gateway to creating more discrimination, more discriminative policies against trans people,” he said.

Big businesses spoke out, too. Tech giants HP and Micron, as well as Clif Bar and the yogurt maker Chobani wrote a letter to state legislators saying the proposals would damage Idaho’s reputation and hurt their recruitment efforts.

“If we're not able to attract that talent, ultimately, we don't get to the best innovation and that's what we're all striving for. And on top of that, it's the right thing to do. But it's good for business as well,” said Sharawn Connors, Micron’s Vice President for Diversity, Equality and Inclusion.

While the bill criminalizing transition-related care for minors failed, both of the others were passed and signed into law by Gov. Brad Little in March. The transgender athlete ban law is the first of its kind in the country.

Rep. Barbara Ehardt (R-Idaho Falls) sponsored a bill blocking transgender girls and women from playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity.
Credit James Dawson / Boise State Public Radio

Rep. Barbara Ehardt (R-Idaho Falls), a former collegiate basketball coach, sponsored it. She has repeatedly defended the law for protecting access to sports for who she calls “biological” girls and women. 

“You see, in sports we have requirements. We have standards and it is not based on feelings and …we have these in order to participate to ensure fairness for all,” Ehardt said during debate on the House floor in February.

That law is now being challenged in federal court. It faces an uphill battle following a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that found discrimination against someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is unconstitutional.

It could also cost the state millions of dollars in lost revenue. The NCAA is weighing moving two rounds of its men’s basketball tournament out of Boise next year, like it did in North Carolina in 2017 over its so-called “Bathroom Bill”.

LGBTQ advocates are weighing a lawsuit over Idaho’s birth certificate law as well. 

Rep. Julianne Young's (R-Blackfoot) bill blocks transgender people from changing the sex on their birth certificates, which opponents said flies in the face of a federal court order from 2018.
Credit James Dawson / Boise State Public Radio

The law comes into effect just as Oliver Johnson-Waskow was in the process of changing the sex on his identity documents.

“Having to see my old name, or a dead name on paper, hear it over the phone, anything, it really is a big trigger for my gender dysphoria,” said Johnson-Waskow, who lives in Boise.

Gender dysphoria is a condition where the mismatch between a person’s sex assigned at birth and their gender identity can cause a lot of anxiety and stress.

Backers of the law banning such changes argue the data is vital for tracking public health issues, for instance whether men or women are more affected by certain illnesses such as heart disease or high blood pressure.

But Johnson-Waskow said that information could be easily stored in a separate database.

“That seems like something pretty simple, to me, and something that we could easily do without hurting these individuals and hurting myself included,” he said.

A federal judge two years ago permanently blocked any automatic ban on transgender people changing their birth certificates.

Under this law, the state health department will still process these requests, but only if it receives a court order telling it to do so – something transgender people don’t qualify for.

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

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