You don’t have to be a track star to understand that it’s hard to make progress while running backwards.
The state of Idaho, having recently stepped forward to protect female athletes, is now being pressed to step back, pivot, and run headlong in the other direction.
When Governor Brad Little signed the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act (HB 500) into law two months ago, he should have been applauded for a common-sense step towards protecting equal athletic opportunities for women.
Instead, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit, Hecox v. Little, asking a court to strike down the law and force female athletes to compete against males who identify as female. Such a step would not only halt Idaho’s protection for women’s sports, but reverse decades of athletic gains for female athletes under Title IX.
This isn’t an isolated problem. Young women across America are finding their athletic skills undermined, their scholarship opportunities evaporating, and their countless hours of hard work devalued by the simple fact that males have inherent physical characteristics that give them an advantage over females in sports.
I’ve seen this firsthand, representing four female athletes in Connecticut who have lost podium spots, championship titles, and advancement opportunities because of males competing in girls’ sports. In fact, two Connecticut males have now taken 15 women’s state championship titles once held by nine different girls.
Since 2017, those same two males have displaced female track athletes from more than 85 opportunities to compete in higher-level competitions.
Those numbers give a fair glimpse of how important the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act is to female athletes in Idaho. Without it, the women’s record books could change as quickly here as they have in Connecticut, with the same lost opportunities for fair competition and athletic success.
No female runner should have to settle in her starting blocks, only to see a male crouching in the next lane. They may both have worked hard, both want to win, both be talented and committed runners – but one of them is intrinsically bigger, faster, and stronger. And both of them know it.
In 2017, more than 5,000 men and adolescent boys ran 400-meter race times faster than the personal bests of Olympic gold medalists Sanya Richards-Ross and Alyson Felix. That’s the edge that comes with being biologically male.
And that’s demoralizing to female athletes. No woman should face a race knowing that it’s not a fair contest … that her hard work could suddenly meaning nothing … that the race has likely been decided by biological factors beyond her control.
Representative Barbara Ehardt, primary sponsor of the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, points out that Idaho’s law allows every athlete “to compete on the teams that match their biological sex or on teams designated as co-ed.” That provides fair opportunities for everyone, without infringing on the crucial benefits women enjoy from competing exclusively against each other.
That’s why my organization is representing two Idaho State University female athletes who have asked to intervene in this lawsuit. They are standing for so many other women who ask only the chance for fair competition – a chance this law makes possible.
For their sake, we hope the federal court will recognize what the ACLU does not: that women’s sports mean nothing if their policies deny women the challenges, opportunities, and fair competition that are the unique, legitimate, and hard-earned legacy of their sex.