The Idaho state legislature has not yet passed any measures designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus or to help residents with the economic fallout. It has, however, found time to pass two unprecedented anti-transgender bills, one of which specifically targets trans children.
The two measures, informally known as the birth certificate bill and the sports bill, would have a deep and lasting impact on the LGBTQ community in Idaho if they became law, LGBTQ rights advocates told HuffPost. The sports bill bans all transgender and intersex girls from competing in girls sports in public schools throughout the state. The birth certificate bill prevents all transgender and gender non-conforming people from changing the gender marked on their birth certificate to match their true gender identity.
The bills passed both chambers in the state legislature this week and now head to Gov. Brad Little’s desk. Little, a Republican, has not signaled whether he will sign either into law. He has until Tuesday to make his decision.
Both measures are “flagrantly unconstitutional,” Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, told HuffPost.
They’re also coming at a disturbing time, when most people are focused on their health and finances as COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, spreads around the nation and the economy wavers. LGBTQ rights activists are appalled that this kind of legislation remains a priority.
“In the midst of a global crisis, the message that’s coming from Idaho right now is that it is a priority to attack trans youth,” Chris Mosier, a Team USA duo athlete and a transgender man, said during a call with reporters on Thursday.
Last week, Little declared a state of emergency in Idaho over the coronavirus, which led to some school districts and workplaces closing.
But the legislature has taken no action to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the state, which had 23 confirmed cases as of Friday, other than decide to end its legislative session early. In the neighboring state of Washington, with 1,376 confirmed coronavirus cases and 74 deaths, the state legislature has passed several bills to help fight the pandemic including more funding for health departments, affordable housing and transportation.
LGBTQ rights advocates worry that the Republican-controlled legislature in Idaho may be able to sneak these bills through since the rest of the nation is preoccupied fighting a pandemic. “The corresponding outrage that should be coming with these bills has not been as loud as it might otherwise because everyone is occupied with a true emergency,” Oakley said.
If signed by the governor, the sports bill would be the first of its kind at the state level. Both bills have been deemed unconstitutional and discriminatory by the attorney general of Idaho, who discouraged the legislature from passing either. He said the bills would tie the state up in major litigation and could become a drain on public funds.
This year, Republican lawmakers across the country have introduced a record-breaking number of anti-transgender measures, filing 60 specifically anti-trans bills in just the first three months of 2020. During all of last year, there were only 19 anti-trans bills introduced in the U.S.
This year, 16 states have filed 25 bills to ban trans and intersex girls from competing in women’s sports. The states include Alabama, Louisiana, Missouri and South Carolina. The two states that have moved their bills the furthest, other than Idaho, are Tennessee and Arizona, but both have also slowed momentum on the legislation and shifted focus to fighting the coronavirus.
These sports bills, like other anti-LGBTQ legislation, prey on fear and miseducation. It’s a “nefarious and dishonest” way for the right to push their anti-trans agenda, Oakley said, pointing to the myth that trans women are simply cisgender men posing as women in order to assault cis women.
“Trans folks in Idaho and across the country have heard lawmakers debate whether or not transgender people should have the same experiences as their peers,” Mosier said. “And it doesn’t really matter at this point if the bill gets [enacted] or not, some of the damage has already been done to the trans community.”
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