What To Know About Idaho’s Legal Battle To Block Trans Student Athletes

Photographed by Caroline Thompkins.
The year 2020 has seen an increase in attacks to the rights of transgender people, from rollbacks on their access to healthcare to being denied use of homeless shelters based on their gender. Another place the battle for transgender rights has played out is on sports fields across the country. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 17 states introduced legislation this year that would ban trans athletes from participating in school sports. Only one of those states saw that legislation signed into law, on March 30: Idaho.
In response, the ACLU, along with Legal Voice, ACLU of Idaho, and law firm Cooley LLP, sued the state of Idaho. That case goes to court the morning of Wednesday, July 22. The bill, HB 500, known as the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, says that “athletic teams or sports designated for females, women, or girls shall not be open to students of the male sex.” The bill allows students to be subjected to intrusive physical examinations. "Idaho is setting a dangerous precedent for intrusions into the lives and bodies of all youth," Chase Strangio, Deputy Director for Trans Justice, LGBT & HIV Project for ACLU, told Refinery29 in March.
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Prior to the bill’s passing, Idaho already had one of the most restrictive sets of regulations of transgender girls to participate in sports. The state required them to be on hormone replacement therapy for at least a year before they could compete in the girls’ division. (This is in line with the NCAA’s requirements for student athletes, as well.)
In the lawsuit, Hecox v. Little, the ACLU is representing Lindsay Hecox, a Boise State University student who wants to complete on the women’s track team, as well as Jane Doe, a cisgender high school student who could potentially be subjected to invasive medical screenings under the legislation.
One argument against allowing transgender girls to compete in sports is that they have an unfair advantage. But research has shown that after HRT, transgender women are no more competitive in women’s divisions than they had been in men’s divisions. Opponents also argue that allowing transgender girls to compete violates the rights of cisgender girls; others counter that this argument seemingly fails to consider the rights of transgender athletes.
“I decided to fight — for myself and for all the trans and intersex student athletes across Idaho, as well as for all Idaho girls and women athletes, who shouldn’t be subject to invasive sex verification exams in order to play school sports,” Hecox wrote in an op-ed for Teen Vogue. “By crushing my goal of competing on my college running team, it sends a message that as a transgender person I’m not worthy of fully participating in public life and social engagement.”
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Idaho was the only state to pass discriminatory legislation against transgender girls participating in sports. But there are a spate of other bills attempting to do the same, and nearly a dozen states are attempting to ban transgender kids from accessing gender-affirming care. These all point to a larger trend of right-wing politicians threatening transgender rights by targeting transgender kids. Many of the bills are being pushed by a small network of conservative lobbyists, mainly made up of right-wing Christian groups. The tactic preys on the societal desire to protect children, even though all available research shows that youth with access to gender-affirming care fare far better than those without. A study published earlier this year showed that access to puberty blockers during adolescence is associated with lower lifetime suicidal ideation.
In Connecticut, similar litigation is pending. A group of cisgender students have sued, challenging the state’s interscholastic athletic conference policy that lets transgender students participate in school sports. They argue that the cisgender girls would never be able to beat the transgender girls they compete against. Meanwhile, in February, Chelsea Mitchell, one of the cisgender girls whose family filed suit, beat Terry Miller, one of the trans athletes the suit claims has an unfair advantage in the sport. According to the ACLU, the judge in this case has asked all parties — including lawyers for the cisgender plaintiffs — to avoid referring to the trans girls as “males.” In response, the cisgender plaintiffs in the lawsuit asked for a new judge, a request that is currently being considered.
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Transgender girls want the right to compete in the sports they love, just like any other kid has the right to. Instead, they find themselves unwillingly thrust into a battle rooted in transmisogyny and centuries-old ideals about the need to protect women. But these arguments invalidate the womanhood — or, in this case, girlhood — of trans girls, therefore putting their well-being and existence in danger — in fact, the very opposite of protecting girls. 
In response to the legislation, Billie Jean King, Megan Rapinoe, Chris Mosier, and dozens of other athletes and organizations have called on the NCAA to move the 2021 Men’s Basketball Championship from Idaho. In response, the NCAA said it will announce a decision in August and reiterated its stated opposition to HB 500, calling it “harmful to transgender student-athletes and conflict[ing] with the NCAA’s core values of inclusivity, respect and the equitable treatment of all individuals.”

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