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Idaho transgender athlete legislation, the blueprint for the nation

The Idaho Fairness in Women’s Sports Act was passed in 2020 and signed into law before a federal judge temporarily blocked its implementation
Published: Apr. 6, 2021 at 10:22 PM MDT
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IDAHO (KMVT/KSVT) — A bill banning transgender girls and women from participating in women’s school and college sports has quickly spread across the country after originating in Idaho.

Rep. Barbara Ehardt (ID-District 33) — a former Division 1 women’s basketball coach — sponsored the bill in the Gem State.

“Was I was coaching in the 1990′s, I had my own hardships I had to endure with the inequalities between men and women,” said Ehardt.

The Idaho Fairness in Women’s Sports Act (Idaho House Bill 500) was passed in 2020 and signed into law before a federal judge temporarily blocked its implementation. By March 2021, over half of the United States had introduced comparable legislation.

According to a University of Idaho professor of law, Shaakirrah Sanders, there have been other bills that have been copied throughout the nation this quickly.

“If you think of some other topics particularly abortion regulation, we often see a state — especially if a state is looking to restrict the ability to terminate a pregnancy — we often see other states follow that model,” said Sanders.

Sanders believes the precedent for these bills traces back to one of America’s most famous court cases.

“Many people wouldn’t think of Plessy v Ferguson in this context, but some underlying facts of the case were that you had an individual who claimed to be white, but the state said ‘no, you’re African-American and therefore have to sit in a particular place on a train,” Sanders said. “The core of the issue there is whether or not this individual had the right to claim whiteness or whether the state had the authority to designate what your race is. Here, we see individuals making the assertion that they are one gender and the state seeking to force them into different gender identity,” Sanders said.

These bills specifically target school-aged children and college students. Both the NCAA and International Olympic Committee have transgender-inclusive policies. The IOC requires athletes to maintain their testosterone levels below 10 nanomoles per liter of blood for a year, whereas the NCAA allows transgender women to compete on a women’s team after one year of hormone-suppression treatment. Both entities allow transgender men to compete in men’s sports without restriction.

Opponents of these bills indicate many female athletes do not view transgender girls and women participating in women’s sports as their primary issue.

“Most of the athletes you talk to within women’s sports, don’t feel this is the problem they want people to be focusing on,” said Power Plays newsletter author and co-host of sports podcast Burn It All Down, Lindsay Gibbs. “This isn’t even a problem.”

“Women’s sports are at their best an inclusive space for people who have been marginalized and excluded to come together and find support within sports and to thrive,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs believes these bills aren’t just going to hurt transgender girls and women. Adding cisgender girls and women who do not fit into societal standards of beauty could also be targeted.

“Those who hit puberty earlier, are taller or are more muscular could be impacted,” Gibbs said. “You’re going to have people guessing at the biology of these girls and women using these bills and these laws as weapons to make these girls and women prove who they are.”

Avery Rae identifies as non-binary and as a former competitive swimmer, they feel the focus on gender takes away from athletes’ dedication and accomplishments.

“I knew girls who were faster than boys and boys who were faster than girls,” said Rae. “Honestly, the gender didn’t matter. It was about how much they trained and how much they put into it.”

Gibbs believes there are better ways to support women’s sports.

“Everyone who truly cares about women’s sports should continue to speak out about these bills because these lawmakers are clearly using women’s sports as their way to marginalize transgender people,” said Gibbs. “The real threats to women and girls’ sports are a lack of funding and media coverage. If you really want to support women and girl’s sports, go attend girls’ basketball games and soccer games or find WNBA games to watch on TV. That’s the best way to actually help and protect women and girl’s sports.”

Hearings on the Idaho Fairness in Women’s Sports Act are expected to resume in U.S. District Court in May.

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