As millions of transgender people prepare to come out, share their stories, or celebrate their identity in recognition of International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31, Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) has signed two bills that effectively attempt to relegate transgender individuals to the shadows.
On the evening of Monday, March 30, just hours before the official start of the Transgender Day of Visibility, Little signed a measure that bars transgender athletes, specifically transgender females, from competing on sports teams and in athletic events designated for a gender that does not match the one they were assigned at birth.
That bill effectively overturns the policy of the Idaho High School Activities Association by prohibiting transgender females from competing for any single-sex sports teams designated for females sponsored by public schools. The measure applies not only to high schools, but to public colleges and universities.
The bill also requires any athlete whose gender identity is called into question to submit a signed statement from a physician detailing the student’s “internal and external reproductive anatomy,” the student’s “normal endogenously produced levels of testosterone,” and an analysis of their genetic makeup.
While similar bills have been introduced in other states — pushed by conservative interest groups in response to an federal lawsuit involving an ongoing dispute between cisgender and transgender student-athletes in Connecticut — Idaho is the first state in the country to pass legislation specifically seeking to exclude transgender student-athletes from certain activities.
Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the deputy executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, criticized Little for prioritizing the bill over taking actions to respond to the ongoing public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our country is facing an unprecedented health crisis, and Gov. Little and members of the Idaho Legislature have prioritized attacking transgender student athletes with this discriminatory and unnecessary new law,” Heng-Lehtinen said in a statement. “State leaders should focus on protecting public health and safety, not on attacking vulnerable youth who want to play on a team with their peers. With so much suffering right now, Idaho is making sure trans kids suffer more.”
Lindsay Hecox, a transgender woman and runner attending Boise State University, said the bill will have the effect of discouraging transgender individuals from competing in sports altogether.
“Supporters of this bill are attempting to fix a problem that was never there. It specifically targets people like me and all transgender female athletes and denies us the opportunity to compete in sports,” Hecox said in a statement. “It’s unfair, unnecessary and discriminatory, and it ignores the commitment we’ve made to rigorous training and the importance of athletic competition to our lives.”
The bill’s constitutionality has already been called into question, with even the current Attorney General, Lawrence Wasden (R), and five previous Attorneys General, warning Gem State lawmakers that the state could potentially end up paying significant amounts of taxpayer money to defend the policy in court if sued, and even more if the courts ruled in favor of transgender plaintiffs.
But Sen. Mary Souza (R-Coeur d’Alene), the Senate sponsor, told her fellow Republicans that outside conservative groups had promised to foot the bill for any legal expenses incurred by the state.
The second bill signed into law by Little bars transgender individuals from changing the gender marker on their birth certificates to align with their gender identity. Changes to an original birth certificate must be made within a year of when the certificate was issued, except in rare instances where there is evidence of “fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact.”
That bill flies directly in the face of a 2018 court ruling declaring Idaho’s previous policy of barring any and all changes to birth certificates unconstitutional.
Transgender advocates have noted that accurate birth certificates that reflect a transgender person’s gender identity are essential to navigating various routine parts of everyday life, including activities like registering to vote, applying for government benefits, opening bank accounts, or obtaining accurate driver’s licenses or state IDs.
Trans individuals and their allies have expressed concerns that barring people from amending the gender marker on their birth certificates effectively “outs” transgender people and puts them at risk for harassment or violence. These contentions are backed up by statistics from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, which found that 1 in 3 transgender individuals with vital documents not matching their gender presentation were harassed, denied benefits or services, discriminated against, or physically assaulted.
“At each step of the legislative process, from this bill’s introduction in the Idaho House, through the Idaho Senate, and on to the governor’s desk, policymakers were fully aware that they were explicitly flouting a binding federal court order,” Peter Renn, counsel for Lambda Legal and part of the legal team that obtained the trans-friendly 2018 court ruling.
“And the court could not have been clearer: this policy was unconstitutional two years ago, and it is still unconstitutional today,” Renn added. “Idaho has deliberately set itself on a collision course with the federal courts. It is in open rebellion against the rule of law.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho issued its own statement condemning Little and the lawmakers who approved the bills, which the organization called “discriminatory, unconstitutional, and deeply hurtful.”
“The ACLU will see the governor in court,” the ACLU of Idaho said, promising to sue the state to block both measures from being enforced. “We encourage all Idahoans to email, call, and tweet Gov. Little to express outrage and disappointment at wasting precious taxpayer resources on blatantly anti-transgender bills at a time when we should be coming together for the health and wellbeing of our people.”
Both the student-athlete bill and the birth certificate bill were opposed by business groups, more than 40 of which signed an open letter urging lawmakers across the United States to refrain from passing bills targeting transgender individuals for disparate treatment.
The bills were also opposed by medical professionals, who have pointed to a recent study finding that transgender individuals with accurate identity documents have better mental health outcomes than their peers whose documents don’t match their gender identity.
LGBTQ organizations piled on criticism of the bills, many invoking the urgency and severity of the current COVID-19 pandemic to criticize Idaho Republicans who pushed through both measures.
“We are living in an unprecedented global health crisis, with confirmed cases of COVID-19 increasing on a daily basis in Idaho, across the United States and around the world, but Governor Brad Little and the Idaho legislature have decided to prioritize the demonization of transgender people,” Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.
“This is unacceptable, and a gross misuse of taxpayer funds and trust. Idaho is leading the way in anti-transgender discrimination, and at a time when life is hard enough for everyone, Idaho’s elected leaders will be remembered for working to make their transgender residents’ lives even harder,” David added. “Shame on Governor Little and the legislators who championed these heinous pieces of legislation.”
“Tonight, on the eve of the Transgender Day of Visibility and while the United States is overwhelmed with a massive public health crisis, Idaho Governor Brad Little passed legislation targeting some of the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community — transgender children,” Alex Schneider, the associate director of transgender representation at GLAAD, said in a statement. “Now, more than ever, transgender people need to be supported, not subjected to state-sponsored discrimination and suffering.”
The Trevor Project, a national organization focused on combating suicide and suicidal ideation among LGBTQ youth, noted that their most recent national survey found that 78% of transgender youth said they’ve been discriminated against because of their gender identity, and nearly half have attempted suicide in the past year due to harassment or lack of acceptance. The Idaho bills, the organization says, simply exacerbate an existing problem.
“It is a sad day in the United States when lawmakers are more determined to stop trans young people from playing games than to provide them with the care, support, and opportunities they need to survive and thrive,” Sam Brinton, the head of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, said in a statement. “The Trevor Project will actively fight these dangerous laws and we will continue to send a clear message to trans youth in Idaho and across the country that they deserve love and support, should be proud of who they are, and that they are never alone.”
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