Education

Judge Blocks Idaho Law Limiting Sports Participation by Transgender Females

By Mark Walsh — August 17, 2020 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A federal district judge on Monday issued an injunction blocking an Idaho law that bars transgender females from participating on girls’ or women’s school athletic teams, ruling that the law likely violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal-protection clause.

“The court recognizes that this decision is likely to be controversial,” U.S. District Judge David C. Nye wrote. “While the citizens of Idaho are likely to either vehemently oppose, or fervently support, the [Fairness in Women’s Sports] Act, the Constitution must always prevail.”

Nye said the Idaho statute, signed into law by Gov. Bradley Little in March, discriminates on the basis of transgender status. He said the case must go to trial on the challengers’ claims that the law violates equal protection as well as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars sex-based discrimination in federally funded educational programs.

But his 87-page decision in Hecox v. Little analyzed many of the arguments raised in the national debate over transgender girls and women participating in female sports and largely sided with the law’s challengers.

“Ultimately, the court must hear testimony from the experts at trial and weigh both their credibility and the extent of the scientific evidence,” Nye said. “However, the incredibly small percentage of transgender women athletes in general, coupled with the significant dispute regarding whether such athletes actually have physiological advantages over cisgender women when they have undergone hormone suppression in particular, suggest the act’s categorical exclusion of transgender women athletes has no relationship to ensuring equality and opportunities for female athletes in Idaho.”

The challenge to Idaho’s law was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Lindsay Hecox, a transgender track athlete at Boise State University, and a cisgender female student, identified in court papers as Jane Doe, who plays on the girls’ soccer team at Boise High School, and is concerned about being subjected to invasive “sex verification” testing under the new law, their suit says.

Nye said the law’s sex-verification dispute process “creates a means that could be used to bully girls perceived as less feminine or unpopular and prevent them from participating in sports.”

The law is being defended by state officials with the support of President Donald Trump’s administration, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Idaho case in June. The administration emphasized in its brief that it believed the law passed muster under the equal-protection clause and did not discuss Title IX.

But Nye noted that the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights recently issued a letter in a Connecticut case about transgender athletes that takes the position that allowing transgender girls to participate in girls’ high school athletics discriminates against cisgender female athletes under Title IX.

“The OCR letter is ... of questionable validity given the [U.S.] Supreme Court’s recent holding” in Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., Nye said, referring to the high court’s June 15 decision that discrimination based on sex under the main federal employment-discrimination law includes discrimination based on a person’s transgender status.

The judge did allow two cisgender female athletes to intervene in the case to make their arguments that they would lose out on competitive and scholarship opportunities if they are forced to compete against transgender female athletes.

Nye, citing evidence and arguments submitted in the case, said it appeared unlikely that allowing transgender female athletes to participate in girls’ and women’s sports would substantially displace cisgender female athletes.

The judge noted that the National Collegiate Athletic Association and high school sports authorities in most states have permitted transgender females to participate in female sports, often under certain conditions such as requiring that they suppress their testosterone levels for a specified time prior to competing.

“That the act essentially bars consideration of circulating testosterone [levels] illustrates the legislature appeared less concerned with ensuring equality in athletics than it was with ensuring exclusion of transgender women athletes,” Nye said.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference that Boise State participates in recently postponed fall sports, while tryouts for soccer at Boise High have also been postponed. Still, the judge indicated the injunction will allow Hecox and Doe to participate in any training programs for their sports that may occur this fall.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP