Identity

Everyone Else Is Dealing with COVID-19. Idaho’s Pushing an Anti-Trans Bill

"They don't have their priorities straight."
March 25, 2020, 11:28am
idaho-high-school-track-transgender-girls
Sol de Zuasnabar Brebbia / Getty Images

Lindsay Hecox was looking forward to finally running track in college. Hecox, a 19-year-old freshman at Boise State University, ran cross country in high school and said it was the only place where she felt like she could be herself. In addition to describing herself as a “shy introvert,” Hecox has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which made it difficult to make friends. Running provided her a shared experience to bond with her classmates.

“Even though I definitely wasn't the most social, I still felt accepted,” Hecox told VICE. “I was a pretty good runner and everyone likes you if you’re nice and you can run fast.”

Hecox, who came out as transgender at the end of her senior year of high school, took the year off from running competitively to start transitioning and focus on her studies. Guidelines established by the NCAA state that trans female athletes must take medications that suppress their testosterone levels for a year before they are allowed to compete, and she started hormone replacement therapy last September. That means she could have been eligible for the 2020-2021 school year. (The NCAA told The Hill last month that it was “monitoring” the bill’s progress.)

If she had made the team, Hecox would have made history: No transgender student athlete has ever competed openly on a collegiate track team in Idaho. Hecox said she wasn’t looking to break records, though. She just wanted to feel at home again.

“Running really helps stabilize me, as I sometimes have mood fluctuations,” Hecox said. “If I go out for a run, it cleans the slate, and I feel like I can release a little bit of stress after that. If you have a friend and you’re running alongside them, it feels like you’re losing track of time and it gets your mind off things, as you just look forward to the next mile marker.”

But Hecox could soon be banned from the sport she loves if Idaho signs a bill into law that would prohibit transgender women and girls from participating in school athletics in alignment with their gender identity. House Bill 500, also known as the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, applies to student-athletes playing in K-12 sports and at the collegiate level, no matter if the university is public or private. The legislation is headed to Gov. Brad Little’s desk after passing the Idaho Senate last Monday by a 24-11 vote and the House last month, both of which are dominated by Republicans.

HB 500 isn’t the only anti-trans bill awaiting the governor’s proverbial pen. Just days after the Senate overwhelmingly approved the trans sports ban, it also passed House Bill 509, which prevents transgender people from updating their birth certificates to match their lived gender. In a Thursday vote, all but six Senators approved the legislation, also called the “Idaho Vital Statistics Act.”

Little has yet to state whether he intends to support either of the two proposals, but when asked about them last month, the governor was quoted in the Idaho Press as saying he’s not a “big discrimination guy.”

The bills have been met with virulent opposition from civil rights groups. Kathy Griesmyer, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, said their passage would set a “really dangerous precedent” that would likely be used as a “model for discriminating against transgender people in other states.” Although the ACLU estimated that 17 states in the U.S. have introduced bills in the 2020 legislative session that would restrict the ability of trans students to compete in school sports, none have passed. HB 500 would be the first bill of its kind in the nation.

“There are really devastating consequences if HB 500 becomes law,” Griesmyer told VICE. “This has the potential to harm intersex people, women who present too masculine, or anybody who wants to use this law to go after a competitor.”

Among the most glaring issues with HB 500 is that it stipulates that a student athlete’s “biological sex” would have to be determined by one of three factors before they are allowed to compete. These options are a test of the individual’s “internal and external reproductive anatomy,” “normal endogenously produced levels of testosterone,” or “genetic makeup.”

But as in the case of a similar bill introduced in Arizona, the legislation does not establish a process for bringing about these claims, meaning that any student or their parent could accuse an athlete on an opposing team of being transgender. Accused students, many of whom as likely to be cisgender, would thereby be forced to undergo costly DNA testing or an invasive genital exam. The proposal also does not state what body would be responsible for looking into complaints or how a student’s private medical information would be protected.

Notably, the Arizona bill was watered down to remove the genital testing components following public backlash. The Idaho legislation has remained unchanged, despite the concerns of LGBTQ advocacy groups.

“This bill is not based on science,” Kate Oakley, senior counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, told VICE. “It is legislation that is based purely in misinformation about trans youth, and it is targeting trans youth for discriminatory treatment. For any trans person in Idaho, they are now on notice that their government is willing to make laws that are based on fear and not facts.”

The anti-trans bills are likely to be met with immediate legal action should they be signed into law, as five former Idaho attorneys general argued in a March 17 letter addressed to Little. In particular, critics said HB 509, the birth certificate bill, would violate a court order from U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Candy W. Dale, who ruled in March 2018 that Idaho’s policy of denying birth certificate corrections on the basis of gender identity was unconstitutional. Prior to that time, Idaho was one of three states—along with Ohio and Tennessee—that did not allow trans people to update their birth records.

When that policy was overturned in district court, Emilie Jackson-Edney was one of the first people in Idaho to apply for a corrected birth certificate. Jackson-Edney, who sits on the board of the Pride Foundation in Boise, said she had started her application process eight years earlier but that the long wait was worth it.

“It’s necessary to navigate safely through society with minimal harassment and minimal scrutiny,” Jackson-Edney told VICE, noting that a third of trans people without a corrected birth certificate report experiencing mistreatment and even physical violence as a result. “It’s a safety issue. For trans people having concurrent identity documents that reflect their gender identity is really critical, and not being able to have them would be very difficult.”

What makes these bills particularly hurtful for trans people in Idaho is the timing of the legislation. They were pushed through the state Senate during the same week that municipalities across the country took measures to curb the spread of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. And yet in Idaho, little has been done to stop its citizens from contracting coronavirus.

“I haven’t seen one thing from the [state] government other than telling us to wash our hands, and I honestly don't think that we’re taking it very seriously,” said Yarit Rodriguez, who runs a support group for trans youth in Idaho, told VICE. He added that it “doesn't make sense” to him why passing anti-trans bills is “more important than an outbreak affecting multiple communities.”

The lack of statewide action on coronavirus is particularly personal for Hecox, who was being forced out of her dorm at Boise State as she spoke over the phone on Thursday. The university sent an email to students earlier the same day ordering anyone who hadn’t already abandoned campus housing to evacuate the premises within the week. Although many students who have family in the area have the option to simply move back home, it wasn’t so easy for her.

“I was living with my grandparents in California before,” she said. “They don't want another person living with them because of their age. They are susceptible to having a bad reaction to the virus or dying.”

To keep Hecox from being homeless, her mother is uprooting her life in California to move to Boise. Even as the federal government debates a trillion-dollar stimulus package that would provide greater assistance to families like hers, which have been forced into impossible situations, Hecox noted that Idaho lawmakers had yet to make any similar moves. The Senate wrapped for the year on Thursday, while the House finished up the following day.

“They have not passed any legislation for that,” she said of a statewide coronavirus relief effort. “They don’t have their priorities straight.”

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