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Transgender community in Boise feels the effects of House Bills 500 and 509

Illustration by Wyatt Wurtenberger

Lindsay Hecox, a freshman psychology major, is an avid runner who hopes to join the Boise State women’s track team. As a transgender woman, Hecox was searching for a loving community at Boise State that advocates for trans rights. 

That is where Boise State’s Gender Equity Center (GEC) came into the picture.

“There’s a large group that frequently gathers at the Gender Equity Center,” Hecox said. “I started going there for lunch, and I felt like I found my group here. My favorite hobby is just hanging out there.” 

Idaho’s legislature, however, has proven to be less accepting of the transgender community. On Feb. 13, House Bills 500 and 509 were introduced, both targeting transgender individuals in the state.

Despite pushback from the transgender community and many allies, on March 30, Gov. Brad Little signed HB 500 and 509 into law amid the growing COVID-19 crisis.

“I don’t want to have to be something so talked over and controversial,” Hecox said. “I’m just living my life and trying to be who I feel is best for me. I don’t want to be politicized. A great number of people see [trans people]as a talking point rather than real people.”

Restricting athletics

Bills similar to these have been introduced in several other states since the beginning of this year, challenging the National Collegiate Athletics Association’s (NCAA) choice to protect and include transgender women athletes.

According to the statement of purpose for House Bill (HB) 500, it “will ensure that opportunities continue for girls and women competing in athletics. Boys and men will not be allowed to participate on girls or women’s teams, as defined by their inherent differences that are physiological, chromosomal and hormonal.” 

“[The bills] put a big hole in my heart,” Hecox said. “I can’t really understand why they would take this issue [about trans athletes]so far.” 

The ACLU and Legal Voice filed a lawsuit against HB 500 on April 15 on behalf of Hecox, who wants to run on Boise State’s track team. The suit was also filed on behalf of a Boise High School junior who is cisgender, and concerned about needing to undergo invasive tests to verify her sex. The lawsuit hopes to get the court to block HB 500, which violates Title IX, the law prohibiting discrimination in federally-funded educational programs.

“When I run, it’s not to be competitive to a point of having a vendetta against anyone,” Hecox said. “I just love this sport, I happen to be trans. I don’t think after a year of HRT (hormone replacement therapy) I’ll have any advantage.”

Along with the bill’s obvious detriment to transgender athletes, both bills pose the risk of outing transgender students to teachers, coaches and peers by allowing for health care providers to perform examinations to resolve “a dispute regarding a student’s sex” with a signed statement or consent form to verify the student’s sex.

This practice can alienate these students and lead to increased rates of depression and anxiety.

“Having separate sex-specific teams furthers efforts to promote sex equality. Sex-specific teams accomplish this by providing opportunities for female athletes to demonstrate their skill, strength and athletic abilities while also providing them with opportunities to obtain recognition and accolades, college scholarships and the numerous other long-term benefits that flow from success in athletic endeavors,” the bill reads.

Many states have introduced legislation similar to HB 500, but Little made Idaho the first to enact the anti-transgender bills into law.

“Their alternatives are horrible. The main one I see is to just have trans girls compete in a league of their own. That just wouldn’t work, especially in a state like Idaho which has a lot of transphobic people,” Hecox said. “How can we just put ourselves in this place, like, ‘Here’s a bunch of trans people all in one place, let’s hope they don’t get harassed and protested against.’” 

Taking a community stand

In efforts to oppose HB 500 before its signing, organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and GLAAD urged people to email, tweet and call Little and express their concern towards the bill. The HRC promoted a simple form one could fill out with their contact information and a pre-written message to send to Little. 

Meanwhile, both the HRC and Add the Words promoted posts on Instagram providing details on how to encourage Little to veto the bill.

In response to this bill being introduced, athlete Chris Mosier flew from Chicago to Boise to speak out against the proposed legislation. Mosier was the first transgender athlete to represent the United States in an international competition, and he was also the first transgender athlete to be sponsored by Nike. 

“The thing about these bills is that they are intended to ‘solve’ a problem that doesn’t really exist,” Mosier said in an interview with KTVB. “It is a ‘problem’ in the eyes of the legislators.”

The argument put forth in this bill by Rep. Barbara Ehardt and her supporters is that transgender women will have athletic advantages over cisgender women. 

“We are not limiting the opportunities of those who are biologically male because they will have that opportunity to compete on the men’s side,” Ehardt said when she introduced the bill in February. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Idaho policy director Kathy Griesmeyer disagrees. 

“There is no inherent advantage to being transgender in athletic performance,” Griesmeyer said. “Elite athletes often do have a competitive advantage as a result of physical characteristics, like [an]above-average heart or lung capacity. But again, there’s no data to support that transgender people gain an inherent competitive advantage in sports by virtue of transition.” 

According to Griesmeyer, foundations supporting women in sports agree.

“Because allowing trans girls to compete in girls’ sports doesn’t hurt anyone, advocates for women and girls in sports such as the National Women’s Law Center, the Women’s Sports Foundation, Women Leaders in College Sports and others support trans-inclusive policies and oppose efforts to exclude transgender students from participating in sports,” Griesmeyer said.

Restricting autonomy

The second bill signed by Little targeting transgender people in Idaho directly affects Idaho-born transgender residents. HB 509 prohibits the ability to change one’s sex marker on their birth certificate, which takes away a right from transgender individuals, as well as an important part of transitioning. 

“There is a compelling interest in maintaining accurate, quantitative, biology-based material facts on Idaho certificates of birth that provide material facts fundamental to the performance of government functions that secure the public health and safety…” said Rep. Julianne Young, who introduced the bill. 

Griesmeyer argued that this bill will cause more problems than Young believes it would solve. 

“This bill negatively impacts transgender Idahoans by preventing them from listing their accurate gender marker on their birth certificate,” Griesmeyer said. “For example, it means that someone who is a transgender man, who presents and lives their life as male, would likely struggle to board a plane, obtain insurance or a Real ID driver’s license, even enroll in public school or university or open a bank account — all because his birth certificate says he is female.”

Jasper Varley, an anthropology major, is a peer educator for the GEC, as well as the vice-president of the Boise State Transgender Alliance.

“These bills don’t make me feel good. It goes without saying that Idaho hasn’t really cared a whole lot about minority members of any kind,” Varley said. “I’ve never been more glad to be from California than at this moment. My birth certificate is not Idaho-based, I can still get it changed. But I do know a lot trans of people from Idaho who can’t get theirs changed.” 

Transgender residents of Idaho born outside the state can change their birth certificates and passports, but the bills specifically endanger Idaho-born transgender individuals who are now forced to use state-issued identifications with their sex rather than their identified gender.

“People are thinking more about, ‘Oh no, what if they can change this one letter on their birth certificate and now there are scary trans people!’ They’re not thinking rationally,” Varley said. “They’re not listening to what the experts are saying. They’re not doing it for their fellow humans; they’re doing it out of their own interest.”

HB 500 and 509 fail to look at the hardships transgender people continually face. Coming out is a major life event for many of those in the LGBTQ+ community, and it can cause many stressors. Transitioning is also important to many transgender people, and it should always be left up to the individual to decide how they want to transition, including birth certificate changes. 

Along with the stress of coming out and transitioning, they may face increased amounts of discrimination in the workplace, in personal relationships and anywhere else.

“[Being trans] is just a lot more difficult,” said freshman Anna Rift, a computer science and math major. “With transitioning and studying, it really impacts my mental health. It also makes me not want to work with other people. I always avoid doing group assignments and projects. I don’t want to be around people and not know if they’re gonna be okay with me or not. It’s just kind of stressful to interact with other people, and I wish it wasn’t.”

Gender norms have impacted the transgender community in many harmful ways, most commonly in the assumption of gender.

These norms often include traditional ideals as to what men and women look like, such as hair style and clothing. Despite that, general physical appearance may not have anything to do with one’s gender, therefore assuming gender from appearance proves to be rather harmful.

“The most common thing I run into is just getting misgendered, either by people who know me or don’t,” Rift said. “People just shouldn’t assume gender based on appearance.”

Not only will these bills impact transgender Idahoans on a personal level, they will also be met by economic issues. Many companies hold values such as inclusion and diversity, and legislation  like these bills can turn away large companies. Chobani, Micron, HP and Clif Bar delivered a letter to Gov. Little urging him to veto the bills, saying the House Bills don’t represent the company’s values.

“We also think it’s clear that there will be an economic impact,” Griesmeyer said. “We’ve seen large employers like Chobani, Micron, HP and Clif Bar take a clear stand against it and in favor of diversity, equity and inclusion. It will not entice large businesses to locate or expand in Idaho, that much is clear.”

These economic impacts, though, might not be as detrimental as the personal effects transgender Idahoans could face. Trans students at Boise State, along with the transgender community throughout the state of Idaho, are directly harmed by this legislation, despite claims from lawmakers that they would perform a public service.

“We literally don’t want to make this a big deal at all,” Hecox said. “It’s just human rights. Trans people are people, they don’t want to be in the spotlight. The process of first realizing you’re trans to several years of transitioning is a long and hard process that we unfortunately have to go through. Several years of our lives are just terrible. I want people who aren’t trans to realize that.”

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