In Idaho, two bills attempting to roll back civil rights for the state’s transgender community are headed to the governor’s desk. Advocates urge him to veto both, but with the news consumed by coronavirus, will their pleas be heard?
There’s no denying it: coronavirus has got us all messed up. Whether we’re worried about friends, family, and ourselves coming down with the disease or panicking over the devastating effect social distancing-related closures are having on the economy, it’s hard to shake it from our minds and pay attention to, really, anything else.
But that doesn’t mean that people with anti-LGBTQ agendas are ceasing in their efforts to roll back our rights around the nation. And if you needed proof of that, look no further than what happened in Idaho late last week, as the state’s legislature approved two bills that, if passed, will have a seriously negative effect on transgender people living in that state.
The first bill, the Fairness In Women’s Sports Act, seeks to ensure that high school sports programs for women “shall not be open to students of the male sex.” One would have to assume that this act is intended to bar transgender girls from participating in school sports programs, though this wording is based on a lot of assumptions, if you ask us. However, clearly the legislature knew this, as there is additional language within the bill requiring that any student disputing whether they should be barred from women’s sports activities at the high school level must submit a statement from a doctor that established their sex based on “the student’s internal and external reproductive anatomy; the student’s normal endogenously produced levels of testosterone; and an analysis of the student’s genetic makeup.”
Ah yes, that old “I can misgender you based on your chromosomes” argument so beloved by belligerent conservatives like Ben Shapiro. Of course, gender (and sex) are much more complicated than that, but once such things are written into law, those complications seek to have a legal relevance, regardless of whose rights get taken away.
Boise Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb called the bill “repugnant,” and said, “This bill is rooted in fear and misinformation,” according to East Idaho News, but she ultimately was unable to convince her fellow legislators to vote it down, and the bill passed by significant margins in both houses of the Idaho state legislature.
“Idaho has not seen any issues with trans girls competing in the girls sports,” American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho policy director Kathy Griesmyer told the Washington Blade. “This unconstitutional and mean-spirited bill prevents trans girls from finding community and self-esteem in sports and will certainly result in litigation to defend the civil rights of Idaho’s transgender community.”
Five former Idaho attorneys general actually sent an open letter to Idaho Governor Brad Little urging him to veto the bill, saying that it seems particularly vulnerable to legal challenges. “The Attorney General has opined that the legislation contains a number of legal infirmities, making it subject to invalidation in federal court proceedings,” they wrote in a letter published by the Idaho Statesman. “The more serious concern is apparent conflict with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but other provisions of federal law are implicated.”
Sam Brinton, head of the Trevor Project, called the decision to move forward with the bill “shameful,” especially during a global pandemic. “Our elected officials should be expanding opportunities for trans students, not further marginalizing a group already at high risk for bullying and discrimination,” Brinton told the Washington Blade. “At The Trevor Project, we hear from LGBTQ youth in crisis every day and we know that affirming trans youth in their identities is critical to their health and wellbeing. Denying trans youth the ability to participate in school sports, which have shown to have a positive effect on mental health, will increase the kind of social isolation and stigma that contributes to the risk of suicidality.”
Meanwhile, another more wide-ranging anti-trans piece of legislation is also winging its way to Governor Little’s desk. This one is known as the Idaho Vital Statistics Act, and it prohibits the changing of gender markers on birth certificates for any reason besides “fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact.” This would eliminate the ability of transgender people to change the gender markers on their birth certificates as part of their legal transition. At this time, only Ohio and Tennessee have an outright ban on transgender people changing the gender marker on their birth certificates.
A variety of other states require proof of a medical procedure (gender confirmation surgery) in order to make this change; Virginia still does at this moment, but a bill currently before Governor Ralph Northam will end that requirement, assuming Northam signs it into law by the action deadline of April 11. Governor, if you’re reading, I trust you to do the right thing for us.
Back in Idaho, Representative Julianne Young, who sponsored the bill, told CNN that “safeguarding the accuracy of our vital records is a vital part of preserving the ability of the state to protect the public health and safety.” One assumes she considers it somehow inaccurate for a birth certificate to reflect a trans person’s actual gender identity.
The legislation follows a 2018 court order requiring Idaho to allow gender marker changes on birth certificates, and seems intended to overrule that order, though it could easily still be found unconstitutional by a future judicial ruling. Lambda Legal counsel Peter Renn, who worked on the 2018 case, was frustrated by the bill’s passage.
“Idaho lawmakers might as well try to tear down the federal courthouse if they have this much contempt for the rule of law,” Renn told the Washington Blade. “They are explicitly defying a court order and exposing Idaho taxpayers to footing the bill for significant financial consequences – all while putting transgender people back in harm’s way for harassment and even violence, and once again making Idaho a national outlier.”
Top Photo: Idaho state Capitol, by Maxbatt at en.wikipedia – Own work, Transferred from en.wikipedia, Public Domain, via Wikimedia