A new bill introduced in the Idaho House would ban transgender women athletes from participating in sports that align with their gender identity and could add significant complications for state colleges and universities.
Rep. Barbara Ehardt (R-Idaho Falls) painted a picture of what it was like to be a girl growing up in the 1960s to the House Education Committee Wednesday.
She didn’t want to become a teacher; she didn’t want to become a secretary and she didn’t want to become an airline stewardess. All she wanted to do was play sports.
“And you know what the response to me was? ‘Ah, that’s not what girls do,’” Ehardt said.
Ehardt was thrilled when Title IX passed in 1972, which is the federal law that forced schools to offer similar athletic programs to women. She eventually earned a basketball scholarship to Idaho State University and later became a Division I women’s basketball coach for 15 years.
But now she says transgender athletes are acting as a “roadblock” to girls and women who want to play sports with their peers.
Her bill would limit transgender women, someone who was born biologically male, to playing sports that align with their sex assigned at birth, but transgender men would be exempted from this proposal.
“The bill will codify that girls’ and women’s opportunities cannot be taken by boys and men,” she said.
The proposal would force all sports teams sponsored by public schools, colleges or universities – including intramural or club teams – to designate them as either a men’s, women’s or coed team.
Any team specifically categorized as a girls’ or women’s team cannot be open to a student who was born male, even if they identify as female. Students disputing the rule must have a doctor’s note proving their sex, which can only be based on their sex organs, the level of testosterone they produce and an analysis of their genetic makeup, under the bill.
The proposal doesn’t outline an acceptable level of testosterone detected within a person’s bloodstream, nor does it say how a school is to consider someone who is intersex.
An intersex person can be born with ambiguous genitalia, they may not properly produce or absorb hormones like testosterone, or may not be able to produce sperm, even if they have XY chromosomes, which typically label a person as biologically male. The condition affects about 1 in 1,000 babies.
Rep. Steve Berch (D-Boise) tried to block the introduction of the bill, but failed.
“This is an issue that’s so far down the priority list that we have in this state facing education. I just don’t think this is where we should be spending our time at this time,” Berch said.
That prompted pushback from Rep. Gary Marshall (R-Idaho Falls), who served as athletic director and vice principal at the junior high school Ehardt attended as a child.
“This issue that Rep. Ehardt raised is not one down on the list. It’s one of absolute significant importance that girls can grow up knowing that they can compete with other girls in sports,” Marshall said.
Her bill could also have far-reaching complications for Idaho universities that are members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA.
An NCAA policy adopted in 2011 mandates that its members must allow transgender athletes to participate in sports that align with their gender identity. Trans men may do so immediately, while trans women must undergo testosterone suppression therapy for one year before being able to join the team.
“Research suggests that androgen deprivation and cross-sex hormone
treatment in male-to-female transsexuals reduces muscle mass; accordingly, one year of hormone therapy is an appropriate transitional
time before a male-to-female student-athlete competes on a women’s team,” said Eric Vilain, Director of UCLA’s Center for Gender-Based Biology, who was cited in the NCAA policy.
It’s unclear whether the NCAA would kick out Boise State University, Idaho State University, Northwest Nazarene University and University of Idaho if they fell out of compliance with this nondiscrimination policy.
The organization didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, or NAIA, has a similar policy that covers Lewis-Clark State College and the College of Idaho.
Ehardt’s bill now needs to pass a public hearing before being considered by the entire House.
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