HB500, Idaho’s controversial transgender student athlete ban, also known as the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” is now on hold.
Late Monday, 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 the case of Hecox v. Little.
The lawsuit filed by an ACLU-led legal team on behalf of two plaintiffs — Boise State University sophomore Lindsay Hecox and Boise High school senior Jane Doe — will proceed, because of the judge’s ruling.
In an 87-page memorandum filed Monday, 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.”
Nye also had criticism for the timing of the legislation. HB500 was passed by the Idaho Legislature and signed by Idaho Governor Brad Little on March 30 as the coronavirus pandemic was starting to reach crisis levels across the United States.
“it is difficult to ignore the circumstances under which the Act was passed. As COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and many states adjourned state legislative session indefinitely, the Idaho Legislature stayed in session to pass H.B. 500 and become the first and only state to bar all women and girls who are transgender from participating in school sports. At the same time, the Legislature also passed another bill, H.B. 509, which essentially bans transgender individuals from changing their gender marker on their birth certificates to match their gender identity. Governor Little signed H.B. 500 and H.B. 509 into law on the same day. That the Idaho government stayed in session amidst an unprecedented national shut down to pass two laws which dramatically limit the rights of transgender individuals suggests the Act was motivated by a desire for transgender exclusion, rather than equality for women athletes, particularly when the national shutdown preempted school athletic events, making the rush to the pass the law unnecessary.”
One result of the ruling is that Hecox, a transgender woman seeking to try out for BSU’s track and cross country teams, will be allowed to do so under the current NCAA regulations. The only question for her now is when a competitive season will start. The Mountain West Conference, of which Boise State University is a member, suspended fall sports due to the pandemic. The winter indoor track and spring outdoor track seasons are still possibilities.
“I feel a major sense of relief,” Hecox said in a statement after the ruling came down. “I love running, and part of what I enjoy about the sport is building relationships with a team. I’m a girl, and the right team for me is the girls’ team. It’s time courts recognize that and I am so glad that the court’s ruling does.”
For Doe, a cisgender high school student athlete, the ruling is a shield for herself and every female scholastic and collegiate athlete in the state against another provision in the law. HB500 calls for gender verification by a physician. Such regulations were abandoned by elite athletics organizations such as the International Olympic Committee more than 20 years ago. “School sports are about participation,” Legal Voice attorney Catherine West stated. “All women and girls should be able to play without invasive testing,”
The ACLU’s state legal director for Idaho praised the decision, noting the broad opposition to the law within the state. That opposition included five former Idaho state attorneys general, and five of Idaho’s largest corporations. “This decision will not only protect women and girls, but also the Idaho economy as businesses have made it clear that they do not want to support any attack on transgender students,” ACLU of Idaho’s Ritchie Eppink pointed out. “This is a welcome first step, and our fight for Lindsay, Jane Doe and others impacted by this law is not over.”
The ruling is the latest in a tide of key legal victories for transgender rights, from June’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on employment protections, to Monday’s federal district court decision that blocked a planned Trump Administration rollback on health care protections. Idaho’s other anti-trans law, HB509, intended to bar gender marker changes on birth certificates, was struck down earlier this month by another federal district judge.
The defense lost on two main issues. Their initial bid to have the lawsuit thrown out failed in addition to their challenge to an injunction. They did win their motion to have two cisgender female Idaho State University track and field athletes, Madison Kenyon and Mary Kate Marshall, to intervene in defense of the law.
Representatives of the Alliance Defending Freedom, the lead legal organization for the defense, issued a press release downplaying the losses while revealing a piece of their legal strategy for the lawsuit.
The extremist hate group’s press release repeatedly referenced a single race between Kenton and Marshall and now-graduated University of Montana student athlete June Eastwood, who is a transgender woman. In what has become an ADF custom, they took every opportunity to misgender her.
“The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act is good law because it seeks to protect girls and women across Idaho,” ADF attorney Christina Holcomb stated. “Our clients have already experienced the deflating experience of losing to a male runner, and this should not be allowed to continue.”
Whether that is to be the case will be decided this fall in federal court. Either way, however, transgender athlete Juniper Eastwood is and will remain a woman.