House Republican Caucus Town Hall

Rep. Barbara Ehardt speaks to audience members during the House Republican Caucus Town Hall at the Bonneville County Commissioner’s Chambers on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019.

BOISE — A bill to ban transgender girls and young women from playing on female school and college sports teams is headed to the House floor.

After two mornings of public testimony, the House State Affairs Committee voted to send the bill to the full House on Thursday on a party-line voice vote, with the Republicans in favor and the Democrats opposed.

The bill’s sponsor Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, a former high school and college basketball player who went onto a 15-year career as a college basketball coach, says it is not intended to be discriminatory but would protect girls and women from having to compete against biological males.

“This legislation is about preserving opportunities for girls and women in sports, as it had been defined by Title IX in 1972, when opportunities were created for people like me that our counterparts had had the entire time,” Ehardt said.

Ehardt’s bill would require public schools, colleges and universities, or private ones that are affiliated with the Idaho High School Activities Association or with the college sports organizations the state’s public colleges and universities belong to, to designate teams as either male, female or coed, and says teams designated for females shall not be open to male students. In case of a dispute, the bill says sex should be established with a physician’s statement based on the student’s external and internal reproductive systems, the amount of testosterone the student naturally produces and a genetic analysis.

The bill also says that students who are “deprived of an athletic opportunity or (suffer) any direct or indirect harm as a result of a violation of this chapter” can sue.

The Democrats made motions to hold the bill or send it to to the House’s amending order, both of which failed on party-line votes.

“This bill is an egregious attack on just one segment of our community,” said Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise.

Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, plans to sponsor the bill in the Senate should it pass the House. Souza said transgender girls and women have advantages such as larger bones and more muscle mass that other girls and women don’t.

“Science and common sense tells us that males are physically stronger than females,” she said. “The evidence is unequivocal.”

Seventeen people testified against the bill and seven in favor of it over the two days. The committee held its meetings in a different, larger committee room than usual to accommodate the crowds.

Several of the people who testified against the bill were transgender, or have children who are. Others represented civil rights or gay and transgender rights groups.

“There have been no reports of male students pretending to be transgender to join a female team and gain a competitive advantage,” said Mistie Tolman, Idaho director for Planned Parenthood of the Greater Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. “Simply put, this bill does not address any real-life concerns.”

Many of the bill’s opponents talked about the requirement for an exam if a student’s sex is in dispute, saying it would be an invasive experience for girls forced to go through it. Also, the bill doesn’t say who can challenge a student’s sex.

“Do you think it’s fair for your 14-year-old child to go through invasive testing of their genitals in order to play high school sports?” asked Annie Hightower, director of law and policy for the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.

Others said it sends a discriminatory message to transgender people.

“Make no mistake, transgender girls are girls,” said Lori Burrelle, speaking on behalf of Southwest Idaho NOW. “Transgender women are women. They deserve the opportunity to compete, same as everybody else.”

Brian Stutzman of Idaho Falls, who supported the bill, said girls and women shouldn’t have to compete against people who were born male.

“To allow XYers to play in an XX world is not fair to either group,” he said.

Amanda Penrod, who works with the Rexburg-based conservative group the Madison Liberty Institute, said she believes women can do anything but that there are physical differences between the sexes.

“I support Title IX, and if I believe you’re going to offer sports, they should be for biological females,” she said.

Republican lawmakers have introduced bills similar to Ehardt’s in several other states this year. Ehardt worked with the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based socially conservative group that opposes letting transgender girls take part in girls’ sports, on the bill and they helped craft the language. Much of the language in it is identical to one that was introduced in Mississippi earlier this month.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.