BOISE — A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked Idaho’s new Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which as of July 1 bars transgender girls and women from competing on collegiate and K-12 women’s sports teams in Idaho.
The court will also allow intervention in defense of the law by two female athletes at Idaho State University who complained of “deflating” competitive losses to a transgender woman at an out-of-state cross country meet, letting them submit testimony and arguments as the case moves forward.
U.S. District Judge David Nye granted a preliminary injunction, stopping the law from taking effect while its constitutionality is challenged in court. Nye did so after outlining harm that challengers of the law would suffer in the near future, saying the law, also known as HB 500, risks withholding equal protection of the law outlined in the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, in conjunction with the Seattle-based progressive feminist group Legal Voice, filed the lawsuit against the state April 15.
The plaintiffs are Lindsay Hecox, a Boise State University student and transgender distance runner hoping to try out for the university’s women’s track and cross country teams, and a cisgender Boise High School soccer player who is called “Jane Doe” throughout the case because she is a minor. (Cisgender describes people whose gender identity matches the one they were assigned at birth.)
The plaintiffs “will both suffer specific ‘harm for which there is no adequate legal remedy’ in the absence of an injunction,” Nye wrote. “If Lindsay is denied the opportunity to try out for and compete on BSU’s women’s teams, she will permanently lose a year of NCAA eligibility that she can never get back. Lindsay is also subject to an Act that communicates the State’s ‘moral disproval’ of her identity, which the Constitution prohibits. … When Jane tries out for Boise High’s women’s soccer team, she will be subject to the possibility of embarrassment, harassment, and invasion of privacy through having to verify her sex. Such violations are irreparable.”
In addition to forbidding transgender women and girls from competing in school sports on teams that match their gender identity, HB 500 allowed any person to challenge the sex of a female school athlete in Idaho, and girls who were so challenged would have to prove they were female through medical exams. The plaintiff called Jane Doe worried about being forced to undergo that process to verify her sex.
The law and mandatory verification of an athlete’s sex do not apply to athletes on boys’ and men’s sports teams, an omission that Nye pointed out.
Though the court temporarily blocked the rule, Nye wrote that, under Title IX and the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment, two ISU students supporting the bill had legal standing because of the competitive losses they reported.
Christiana Holcomb, an attorney representing the ISU students and the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative nonprofit in Arizona that worked with Idaho lawmakers in crafting HB 500, was disappointed by the freeze of the bill but said she was “delighted” by the court’s decision to consider the students’ arguments and stakes in the case.
“What it brings is the perspective of female athletes,” she said by phone Monday evening, arguing that the law was “establishing the fair, level playing field that Title IX was meant to create” before its enforcement was paused.
Jeremy Woodson from ACLU of Idaho called the injunction “momentous.”
“Transgender people belong in Idaho, including on school sports teams,” Ritchie Eppink, legal director for the ACLU of Idaho, said in a statement. “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. This is a welcome first step, and our fight for Lindsay, Jane Doe and others impacted by this law is not over.”
The law spurred calls for the NCAA to move its 2021 March Madness tournament games out of Boise; the Board of Governors has yet to make a decision. Additionally, the state of California restricted state-funded travel to Idaho over HB 500 and another new law this year, HB 509, that sets strict criteria for changing gender on a birth certificate; a federal judge earlier this month ruled the latter violated a court order from two years ago.
Though a previous Idaho attorney general analysis raised questions about HB 500’s constitutionality, the Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the recent development in the case.
The bill was first sponsored by Bonneville County and District 33A Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, earlier this year. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Opposition to HB 500 paralleled that to HB 509. Criticism came from Idaho’s largest employers, human rights advocates, faith leaders and more but the bill passed on largely party-line votes, with nearly all majority Republicans favoring it and legislative Democrats all opposed. Republican Gov. Brad Little signed it into law on March 30.
Reporter Betsy Z. Russell contributed.