Metro Weekly

Athletes, women’s and civil rights groups support Idaho transgender runner’s lawsuit

Amicus briefs urge courts to strike down law prohibiting trans athletes from competing in women's sports

idaho, trans, transgender, lawsuit, athlete, sport
Lindsay Hecox – Photo: American Civil Liberties Union

A coalition of hundreds of athletes, coaches, and businesses, as well as civil rights, legal, and medical experts, have come out in support of a lawsuit seeking to overturn an Idaho law that prohibits transgender athletes from competing based on their gender identity. 

Members of the coalition have submitted various legal briefs in support of overriding the law, which was signed by Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) earlier this year but has since been halted by a federal judge.

The coalition, as well as LGBTQ advocates on the ground, claim the law is discriminatory and violates not only the privacy rights of transgender athletes, but cisgender athletes who don’t adhere to stereotypical gender norms.

The two plaintiffs challenging the law are Lindsay Hecox, a student at Boise state University who wants to try out for the school’s cross country team, and Jane Doe, a senior at Boise High School who is cisgender but worries she will be subjected to the law’s requirement that students suspected of being transgender submit to invasive “sex verification” testing.

One of the briefs filed in the case was brought by Athlete Ally, an organization advocating for LGBTQ inclusion in sports, and the Women’s Sports Foundation. The brief has been co-signed by more than 175 female Olympic, professional, and collegiate- and high school-level female athletes advocating for participation by all athletes, regardless of gender identity. 

“There is no place in any sport for discrimination of any kind,” signatory Billie Jean King said in a statement. “I’m proud to support all transgender athletes who simply want the access and opportunity to compete in the sport they love. The global athletic community grows stronger when we welcome and champion all athletes — including LGBTQI+ athletes.”

Other signatories include two-time women’s soccer World Cup Champion Megan Rapinoe; Candace Parker, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in women’s basketball; Megan Duggan, a retired hockey player and former member of Team USA; Esther Lofgren, a gold medal-winning Olympic rowing medalist; and Katie Sowers, an out lesbian offensive assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers football team.

“The dozens of athletes joining this brief — many internationally recognized stars, while others still in college and high school — share one thing in common: a deep understanding and appreciation of the life-long benefits that come from participation in sports,” Carl Charles, a staff attorney with Lambda Legal, which is representing the plaintiffs in the Idaho case, said in a statement. “They recognize the value of inclusive and welcoming sports environments and firmly believe laws like HB 500 that single out groups of women and girls from participation in sports harm the entire athletic community.”

“The fight for equality is the very cornerstone of the Women’s Sports Foundation; regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or ability, all girls and women deserve the opportunity to play, compete, and lead,” Deborah Antoine, the CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation, said in a statement. “We are proud to join the partner organizations and the many advocate athletes signing this important brief. We firmly believe that humanity wins when everyone, including transgender athletes, are represented and included.”

Related: Idaho Republican defends law barring transgender athletes from women’s sports

Another friend-of-the-court brief in support of Hecox and Doe comes from over 60 women’s and civil rights groups, including the League of Women Voters, which are being represented by the National Women’s Law Center and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.

Dr. Deborah Turner, the president of the League of Women Voters of the United States and a practicing gynecologist for more than 35 years, called the Idaho law an “egregious example of of sex discrimination” that could cause “permanent harm and trauma” for those who run afoul of it.

She particularly expressed horror at loopholes in the law that would allow opposing athletes or coaches to allege that a rival athlete is transgender — regardless of whether their claim has merit — which has the effect of sidelining the athletes in question until they submit to genetic testing.

“Gender testing has long been used to attack Black and Brown female athletes, and this law follows that appalling practice, which will disproportionately target women and girls of color,” Turner said in a statement. “The League is horrified and ashamed that in our country, this invasion of privacy known to have lasting negative mental and physical impacts on individuals could become the law.”

“Transgender and intersex persons will be harmed by the enforcement of this law as well as cisgender women who stand to be singled out for their physical appearance,” Celina Stewart, the chief counsel for the League of Women Voters of the United States, said in a statement. “No woman or girl should have to endure this kind of sexual scrutiny by their peers or trusted adults, especially within the school environment which is designed for enrichment and fairness. This law does nothing to protect women, and it runs contrary to the League’s stated goal of securing equal rights and opportunities for all.”

See also: Trump administration defends Idaho’s anti-trans athlete law

Sunu Chandy, the legal director of the National Women’s Law Center, opined that the law is “certainly sex discrimination” and alleged that it “violates both the U.S. Constitution and Title IX,” a federal statute meant to prohibit sex-based discrimination.

“Our brief highlights the ways that this kind of policing of bodies leads to the targeting of all women and girls who don’t conform to others’ expectations regarding sex stereotypes in their gender presentation and additional targeting of Black and Brown student athletes,” Chandy said in a statement. “We urge the court to uphold the decision to stop this illegal law that harms all women and girls.”

Other briefs filed before the court include one filed by three former Idaho Attorneys General; one signed by a number of LGBTQ-friendly corporations; one signed by coaches and administrators; and another from the American Medical Association and other leading medical and mental health associations.

A court date for oral arguments has not yet been set in the case. Currently, the state of Idaho is appealing the federal judge’s injunction blocking the law from being enforced to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Hecox, as the lead plaintiff, thanked all those writing briefs in support of her case.

“I love running, and part of what I enjoy about the sport is building relationships with a team. I’m a girl, and the right team for me is the girls’ team,” she said in a prepared statement. “It means a lot to me that so many people are on my side and supporting me.”

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