BOISE -- Gender equality is a contentious issue in the United States, even in factors as specific as school sport programs. In Wednesday’s House Education Committee meeting, Feb. 12, Republican Idaho Falls Representative Barbara Ehardt says there is a new challenge for sportswomen: transgender athletes.
“You see opportunities continually taken away from girls and women, and you see girls and women being forced into an arena where it is not fair and they cannot compete in,” said Rep. Ehardt. “In some instances, they are literally in danger.”
Ehardt says the proposed legislation will ensure fair athletic opportunities for girls and women by preventing male-to-female transgender students from competing in female sporting events.
“This bill will center on opportunities for girls and women because those opportunities for boys and men, they [male-to-female transgender students] still have them, they just need to do it on that side,” said Ehardt.
Language in the bill bases a student’s participation in school sports teams on their hormones, internal and external organs, and chromosome makeup. Originating from fairness for girls and women, it would encompass all transgender athletes to be defined by their birth given sex. The bill, also sponsored by Senator Mary Souza (R- Coeur d’Alene), would define a student’s gender in three ways; physiologically, chromosomally and hormonally.
Some democratic members of the committee, like Rep. Steve Berch (D - Boise) and Rep. John McCrostie (D - Garden City), openly did not support introducing the bill.
“I just think that this is an issue that is so far down the priority list that we have in this state facing education,” said Rep. Berch. “I just don't think this is where we should be spending our time.”
Other members of the committee disagreed.
“I hardly think equality in sports is seen as an unimportant issue for this committee to be undertaking,” Rep. Gayann Demordaunt (R - Eagle) said.
The current policy in Idaho requires that a male-to-female transgender student athlete must complete one year of medically prescribed hormone treatment under a physician’s care related to the gender transition before competing on the female team. However, they are permitted to participate on the male team without limitations.
“I think the most important thing to share is that this RS [bill] would actually promote the notion that trans-girls are not real girls and that trans-women are not real women,” said Rep. McCrostie. “I find it disappointing.”
Ehardt says the bill does not intend to discriminate LGBTQ students, and she has said she personally supports transgender persons.
Idaho is not alone in discussing transgender athletes in school programs. Recently legislators in approximately five states proposed legislation that prevents athletes from competing in categories different from their biological sex. The states with introduced or prefiled legislation are New Hampshire, Washington, Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The vote to introduce the bill passed, but was divided on party lines. Next stop will be a public hearing in an upcoming House Education Committee meeting.