Idaho Banned Trans Women From Competing In School Sports: One College Student is Fighting Back

The state of Idaho may have recently passed two anti trans laws, but here's how one courageous trans woman student is fighting back against the blatant discrimination.

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Idaho Banned Trans Women From Competing in School Sports
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Image Credit: Courtesy of the ACLU

When Lindsay Hecox, 19, decided that Boise State was the college that she wanted to commit to for the next four years, it was the beautiful surrounding Idaho area that she fell in love with. She wanted a big change from her small city hometown in California. But, she also thought that she would have the opportunity to try out for the Boise State cross country team. She had been a student athlete at her high school, first on the track team as a long distance runner and then as a cross country runner. Running cross country “is one of my biggest passions in life”, Lindsay said in an EXCLUSIVE interview with HollywoodLife.

She never expected that she would be “banned” from competing in women’s athletics in Idaho. Banned because she is a trans woman. But that’s exactly what she is facing since the Idaho state legislature passed two anti-trans bills, and Republican Governor, Brad Little, signed them into law on March 30, 2020. One of those laws, the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act”, bans trans women and girls from participating in all public high school, college and university sports teams. The reasoning from supporters of the bill is that transgender female athletes have a physical advantage over “cisgender female” athletes, whose designated sex at birth was female. 

The other anti-trans law passed by Idaho’s legislature and signed by Governor Little, prohibits all transgender people from changing the gender listed on their birth certificates, so that it now aligns to their “true” gender identity. Idaho earned the distinction with the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act”, to be the first US state to single out trans women and ban them from athletic competition in schools. 

When Lindsay learned that the Idaho state legislature had passed the anti-trans female transgender sports bill and that the governor had signed it into law, killing her dream to become a member of Boise State’s cross country team, she was “down in the dumps for a couple of days”, she said. And furthermore, she was shocked that there was “a big law like this against a small group of people” – female trans athletes in Idaho. 

But her feeling of defeat didn’t last for long. She decided that “I’m a fighter. I’m not going to sit back and let them make awful laws and not do anything about it”, she explained. She decided to email the local ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and took steps to become a plaintiff, seeking an injunction against the law going into its scheduled effect on July 1. If she and the ACLU were successful in getting that injunction, then it would still enable her and all other trans women athletes to participate in competitive sports this coming September. “I have so much resolve to fight this discrimination in a state I’ve been living in,” she vowed. 

The ACLU filed the injunction in Idaho’s state court in an effort to prevent the anti-trans Women Sports Act from going into effect, arguing that it is both discriminatory and an unacceptable invasion of privacy. 

Here’s why Lindsay and the ACLU say Idaho’s ban is so offensive: it allows literally anyone to dispute a female college athlete’s “gender”. If their ‘gender’ is disputed, then a student like Lindsay must get a letter from her health care provider describing what her “biological” sex is, based on her reproductive anatomy, genetic makeup or her normal endogeniously produced testosterone levels.

In other words, Lindsay and all other trans female athletes would have to undergo an invasive examination of their reproductive anatomy plus subject themselves to hormone tests. The ACLU injunction asserts that Idaho’s trans women sports bill “requires trans women to undertake invasive tests and that it therefore discriminates against women who are transgender for being transgender. This violates the American constitution,” explains Gabriel Arkles, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBTQ and HIV Project. “Trans women are being treated worse than cis women and all men. Everyone should be able to compete in sports consistent with their gender identity. Running is such a good thing for the mind, and for endorphins and for motivation. It should be available to help both trans and cis people –  for everyone. No one should be excluded.”

Meanwhile, the Idaho High School Activities Association already has an inclusive policy for transgender athletes in the state, which is virtually the same as the NCAA and International Olympic Committee’s policies. The NCAA policy allows trans women to compete on a female sports team after completing one year of hormone treatments which bring the athlete’s hormone levels to the same range as those of non-trans women. 

Lindsay, who transitioned over a year ago, would meet the requirements for the NCAA policy for trans women athletes. Arkles from the ACLU is optimistic about Lindsay’s chances of winning an injunction against the law. He says that the federal judges in Idaho have generally issued “fair decisions”, and Lindsay says she’s been heartened by the support she’s received from her three roommates at Boise State, her other friends at college and multiple LGBTQ clubs on campus. “They said they were so sad that this has happened,” she says. “I’ve had a love of sports for as long as I can remember. I just keep wondering why they [the Idaho legislature and governor] did this when less than 1% of women in the US are trans and college sports comprises a very small group, so it’s a miniscule group of women who will be affected.” 

So true. But the other anti-trans law signed by Governor Little bans all trans people from changing their gender markers on their birth certificate to match their gender identity. It’s also set to go into effect on July 1 – the second Idaho whammy against trans people. However, in this case, this is the second time that the Idaho state legislature has tried to prevent trans people from changing their birth certificates. They first did that in 2018, and a federal court already struck down that bill. This behavior by Idaho’s Republican controlled state legislature and governor has trans advocates steaming. 

Lindsay Hecox: The courageous Boise State student fighting Idaho’s ban on Trans women in school sports. Courtesy of the ACLU

Lambda Legal, a national organization which fights for the civil rights of LGBTQ people already successfully won a permanent injunction against Idaho enforcing their anti trans birth certificate law, on the grounds that it was unconstitutional because it violated the equal protection rights of trans people. Peter Renn, a counsel with Lambda who is working on the case, expresses his fury politely. “This new piece of legislation is an act of defiance against what the ( Idaho) court (already) ordered. It’s extraordinary. It’s a whole other level of audacity”, explains Renn. “We are going to fight against a ruling that the court has previously ruled is unconstitutional.” 

Renn and Lambden Legal have already filed a motion in federal court to reaffirm its 2018 ruling that preventing trans people from changing their gender identity markers on their birth certificates is unconstitutional. They are hoping the court does this again before the new law goes into effect on July 1, 2020. “FYI, 47 states allow transgender people to change their birth certificates, and two other states – Ohio and Tennessee – are also being sued over their birth certificate laws. This Idaho birth certificate legislation stems out of a refusal to acknowledge the basic humanity of trans people”, Renn believes. 

Aside from the practical difficulties for trans people whose birth certificates don’t match their physical appearances, it places them at risk in many ways. “It opens them up to daily discrimination”, points out Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the Deputy Executive Director for the National Center for Transgender Equality. “When you apply for a job, when you apply for an apartment, your ID is outing you as a trans person. You can be denied a bank loan, denied a job or an apartment. It makes it so much harder to go about your daily life. It’s really hard to be outed on a daily basis.” “There is no dispute that when transgender people don’t have access to gender affirming documents it exposes them to harassment and violence”, warns Lambda’s Renn.

Activist, writer and model Corey Rae, who is a trans woman still has a passport which designates her as a male, even though her photo presents her female self. She has had problems at the airport where TSA officers have “made a big deal out of it. They see a woman in front of them and a woman in the picture and they have to call someone over and you have to go over all your documents. And you can get patted down” she tells Hollywoodlife. She calls the two new Idaho anti-trans laws “100% governmental bullying.” Heng-Lehtinen agrees. “The message has been sent to trans students and other trans people that your state legislature has turned its back on you. You’ve gotten the message that you are disposable.” 

Peter Renn is hopeful with the birth certificate case that the federal court will not allow Idaho’s lawmakers to target trans people for discrimination, and that it will reaffirm that the original 2018 law has already been decided as unconstitutional. Nonetheless, he explains that the Idaho legislature can appeal that and ask the court to dissolve the 2018 ruling. In other words, the legal battle could go on. 

Corey Rae doesn’t believe that Idaho’s anti-trans law would have been passed into law in the pre-Trump era. “On Trump’s first day in the White House, his administration took down the LGBTQ website. I don’t think this ever would have happened if Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders had become president. Trump has emboldened states who wanted to do this. He has made it ok.” 

But it’s not okay for Lindsay Hecox or any other trans people in Idaho.