New Idaho Laws Target Transgender Residents

Jul 4, 2020
Originally published on July 4, 2020 2:05 pm

Two new laws went into effect in Idaho this week that target transgender residents. The enactment comes on the heels of a major U.S. Supreme Court decision in June, which greatly expanded LGBTQ rights.

One of the laws bans transgender people from changing the sex on their birth certificates while the other 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."

Earlier this year, as the bills came before Idaho's legislature, protesters rallied outside the state Capitol in Boise in an effort to uphold transgender rights. Mosier was at that rally in March, urging Idaho lawmakers to reject the 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 in Idaho spoke out, too. Tech giants HP and Micron, as well as Clif Bar and the yogurt maker Chobani, sent a letter to state legislators saying the proposals would 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,"said Sharawn Connors, Micron's vice president for diversity, equality and inclusion. "On top of that, it's the right thing to do. But it's good for business as well."

Despite the businesses' lobbying and protests, the legislature passed the bills and Gov. Brad Little signed them into law. They went into effect July 1.

The transgender athlete ban law is the first of its kind in the country. State Rep. Barbara Ehardt, a former collegiate basketball coach, sponsored it. During the floor debate in the Idaho House, Ehardt defended the move as 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, "Ehardt said. "We have these in order to participate to ensure fairness for all."

Discrimination broadly understood

The law is now being challenged in federal court. It faces an uphill battle there in light of the Supreme Court's recent LGBTQ employment decision, according to Richard Seamon, a constitutional law professor at University of Idaho.

"The court's decision is going to support arguments that the concept of sex discrimination should be understood broadly in all of the areas — including public accommodations — where it's prohibited," Seamon said.

The law that bans people from changing the sex on their birth certificate 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," Johnson-Waskow said.

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 changes to birth certificates 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."

Two years ago, a federal judge blocked an administrative policy in Idaho that prevented transgender people from changing their birth certificates. The state began accepting birth certificate changes in 2018, but this new law replaces that policy.

The same judge recently reaffirmed her permanent injunction last month but declined to rule on the constitutionality of the law. Now, LGBTQ advocates are weighing another legal challenge.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Two bills in Idaho that target transgender people became law this week, and that community says the laws will increase discrimination against them. This comes after a major U.S. Supreme Court decision that greatly expanded LGBTQ rights. Boise State Public Radio's James Dawson reports.

JAMES DAWSON, BYLINE: Earlier this year, as the bills came before Idaho's legislature, protesters rallied outside the state Capitol in Boise.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Hey, hey, ho, ho, transphobic bills has got to go.

DAWSON: They were protesting two bills that just became law July 1. One bans transgender people from changing the sex on their birth certificates and the other bars transgender girls and women from playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

CHRIS MOSIER: We are trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist. We are not seeing widespread domination by transgender women and girls.

DAWSON: That's Chris Mosier, the first transgender person to qualify for an Olympic trial.

MOSIER: This is not just about transgender athletes. This is the gateway to creating more discrimination, more discriminative policies against trans people.

DAWSON: Big businesses in Idaho spoke out, too. Tech giants HP and Micron, as well as Clif Bar and the yogurt maker Chobani, sent a letter to state legislators saying the proposals would hurt their recruitment efforts. Sharawn Connors is Micron's vice president for diversity, equality and inclusion.

SHARAWN CONNORS: 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.

DAWSON: Despite the businesses' lobbying and protests, the legislature passed the bills and Governor Brad Little signed them into law. The transgender athlete ban law is the first of its kind in the country. State Representative Barbara Ehardt, a former collegiate basketball coach, sponsored it. During the floor debate, she defended the move as protecting access to sports for who she calls biological girls and women.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARBARA EHARDT: You see, in sports, we have requirements. We have standards. And it is not based on feelings. We have these in order to participate to ensure fairness for all.

DAWSON: That law is now being challenged in federal court. Richard Seamon teaches constitutional law at University of Idaho. He says the state faces an uphill battle due to the Supreme Court's recent LGBTQ employment decision.

RICHARD SEAMON: The court's decision is going to support arguments that the concept of sex discrimination should be understood broadly in all of the areas, including public accommodations where it's prohibited.

DAWSON: The law that bans people from changing the sex on their birth certificate comes into effect just as Oliver Johnson-Waskow was in the process of changing the sex on his identity documents.

OLIVER JOHNSON-WASKOW: Having to see my old name or dead name on paper, hear it over the phone, anything, it really is a big trigger for my gender dysphoria.

DAWSON: Backers of the law banning such changes say 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 says that information could be easily stored in a separate database.

JOHNSON-WASKOW: That seems like something pretty simple, to me, something that we could easily do without hurting these individuals and hurting myself included.

DAWSON: Two years ago, a federal judge blocked an administrative policy in Idaho that prevented transgender people from changing their birth certificates. This new law replaced that policy. Now LGBTQ advocates are weighing another legal challenge. For NPR News, I'm James Dawson in Boise, Idaho. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.