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NCAA Governors will wait before potentially moving March Madness out of Idaho

NCAA says Idaho’s “law is harmful to transgender student-athletes and is counter to the NCAA’s core values...”

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NCAA Headquarters in Indianapolis, IN.

Calling it “premature,” the leaders of the NCAA are holding off any decision that might cost Boise, Idaho the first round of the Division I Men’s college basketball tournament games on March 18 and 20 — assuming the tournament is held at all because of the coronavirus — as they wait to see what happens to a transphobic state law now at the center of a federal court case.

When the NCAA Board of Governors met on October 27, the issue of transgender inclusion was once again on the agenda. As Outsports reported this week, the conference hosted what it called a virtual gender identity and student-athlete participation summit. And taking part in the event made a difference for the NCAA’s chief medical officer, among others, who said trans athletes’ stories of struggle helped him shift his opinion on the complicated issue.

“I was surprised that in those two days I saw my conceptual framework shifting,” said Dr. Brian Hainline, per the NCAA’s press release on the event. “The NCAA might be in a unique position to take a different sort of leadership voice.”

The summit did not go unnoticed by the Board of Governors, which in August revealed it had launched what it called a “Transgender Student-Athlete Participation Policy review.” Here’s what the official report of their Oct. 27 meeting said:

“The board received an update on the Transgender Student-Athlete Participation Policy review, which included a report on the Gender Identity Summit conducted October 5-6. The summit sought feedback about creating a framework that could inform policy and practice development in the area of gender identity and participation in collegiate sport, with a focus on inclusion, fairness, student-athlete well-being, health and safety. Information gathered during the summit assisted in identifying knowledge gaps and will serve to inform strategies on how to address those gaps.”

In addition to the summit, the governors discussed what opponents of transgender inclusion in Idaho’s legislature labeled “the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” aka Idaho HB500. Here’s the relevant excerpt from the NCAA report of that discussion, and note the hopeful sign at the end that the governors recognize the law as it stands contradicts “the NCAA’s core values of inclusivity, respect and equitable treatment of all individuals.”

“HB500, which prohibits a student assigned male at birth to participate on female athletics teams sponsored by public schools, colleges and universities in Idaho. The bill was adopted in March and went into effect July 1, 2020. In August, a motion for a preliminary injunction was granted, suspending the law while litigation is pending. Board members shared that several advocacy groups have contacted them requesting the NCAA move the 2021 Division I men’s basketball championship events out of Idaho. The board noted that it is premature to act but confirmed its position that the law is harmful to transgender student-athletes and is counter to the NCAA’s core values of inclusivity, respect and equitable treatment of all individuals. The board agreed to continue to monitor the potential impact of this law on the Division I men’s basketball events scheduled for Boise in March.”

As Outsports has reported, the NCAA released a statement in June condemning HB500, calling it “harmful to transgender student-athletes and conflicts with the NCAA’s core values of inclusivity, respect and the equitable treatment of all individuals.” Supporters of the law have lobbied the NCAA to resist “bullying” and claim without it, women’s sports will be “destroyed.”

The decision to wait is unlike how the conference acted in 2016, when under mounting public pressure, the NCAA moved tournament and championship contests from North Carolina following that state’s own anti-LGBTQ legislation.

The NCAA moved championship and tournament games out of North Carolina due to HB2, a law that curtailed rights for LGBTQ people in the state, including prohibiting transgender people from using public restrooms that correspond with their identities. The organization ended its boycott in 2017 when the measure was repealed. The NBA also moved its All-Star Game from Charlotte over the law.

Historically, states have responded when business organizations threaten boycotts over anti-LGBTQ legislation. Not so Idaho, and more than a dozen other states.

This year, at least 17 states have introduced legislation that would bar transgender students from playing sports, but Idaho is the only state with an outright ban. The ACLU is suing Idaho on behalf of Lindsay Hecox, a trans runner who hopes to participate on the women’s track team at Boise State University, and Boise High school senior Jane Doe. Hecox spoke with Outsports in May about her decision to be part of the lawsuit.

In August, Outsports reported that a federal judge in Boise, Idaho agreed to place a preliminary injunction against the new law. HB500 will no longer be in effect, pending the final outcome in that case, Hecox v. Little, and the lawsuit will proceed, because of the judge’s ruling.

In an 87-page memorandum, U.S. District Judge David Nye cited constitutional issues that called for a more critical review of the law in the weeks and months ahead.

“The Court recognizes that this decision is likely to be controversial. While the citizens of Idaho are likely to either vehemently oppose, or fervently support, the Act, the Constitution must always prevail. It is the Court’s role — as part of the third branch of government—to interpret the law. At this juncture, that means looking at the Act, as enacted by the Idaho Legislature, and determining if it may violate the Constitution. In making this determination, it is not just the constitutional rights of transgender girls and women athletes at issue but, as explained above, the constitutional rights of every girl and woman athlete in Idaho. Because the Court finds Plaintiffs are likely to succeed in establishing the Act is unconstitutional as currently written, it must issue a preliminary injunction at this time pending trial on the merits.”

Numerous LGBTQ sports stars, including Billie Jean-King, Megan Rapinoe and Chris Mosier, have spoken out against the draconian legislation, and called on the NCAA to move March Madness from Boise State next year. At least 109 people and organizations have publicly voiced their opposition to the law.

Conversely, more than 300 female athletes recently signed a letter opposing trans women participating in college women’s athletics. On Sunday, Outsports obtained a copy of the letter sent to the NCAA by the group Save Women’s Sports, and published its contents. Among the 309 signatories is tennis icon and out lesbian Martina Navratilova, a leading advocate for cisgender girls and women who opposes inclusion of trans female athletes in women’s sports.

Researchers at Athlete Ally investigated the names on the letter and told Outsports that 121 of them were of former NCAA athletes, or roughly 39%; 48 of those who signed their names, or 15.4% of signatories, were current college students or rising freshmen in the Class of 2024. That investigation is ongoing.

What PinkNews found, however, is even more concerning. Were Navratilova and the women who signed the letter aware that its author, Save Women’s Sports, counts among its “allies” anti-LGBTQ conservative and religious groups? These supporters include the Heritage Foundation, the Alliance Defending Freedom, Concerned Women for America and The Family Policy Alliance. These groups publicly oppose not only trans inclusion but same-sex marriage, adoption by gay couples, the decriminalization of homosexuality, and so much more.

So far, the NCAA has had no comment on that letter.

According to reports in the Idaho newspapers, the association confirmed it received three other letters from student-athletes, professional athletes and advocacy groups, asking the organization to prohibit the State of Idaho from hosting NCAA Tournament events while HB500 is on the books.