By a 24-11 vote, the Idaho Senate passed a bill Monday that would bar transgender girls and women from competing as females in high school and collegiate sports, following the bill’s passage through the House of Representatives last month.

Dubbed the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, the bill was conceived by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, to “preserve opportunities” for female-born athletes by closing the door to students who identify as female despite being biologically male.

Ehardt and other Republican legislators say the bill is necessary to level the playing field because transgender girls and women have an “inherent biological advantage” over their cisgender peers in terms of speed and endurance.

“Boys and men should not be allowed to take away opportunities from girls and women, especially when federal monies are involved,” Ehardt wrote in a previous Facebook post.

In line with NCAA policy, transgender female athletes in Idaho can participate in women’s and girls’ teams if they complete one calendar year of testosterone suppression treatment. But the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which would remove that requirement, states that hormone treatment is not effective in reducing “muscle strength, size and composition in (female transgender) individuals.”

Under the bill, athletes would need to complete physical exams detailing their reproductive anatomy, genetic makeup and testosterone levels—a stipulation that critics say is deeply invasive. District 26 legislators Sally Toone, D-Gooding, and Muffy Davis, D-Ketchum, and are two such critics.

“[The bill] encourages and points out differences in girls’ sports and allows for unjustified accusations,” Toone said Friday. “There are rules in place for all [female] athletes, and more restrictions and regulations are just not needed.

“We need to promote inclusion and participation.”

On Feb. 26, the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act passed 52-17 in the House, with Davis and Toone joining 12 other House Democrats and three Republicans to oppose the bill.

Since then, the Trevor Project—a nonprofit focused on reducing suicide among LGBT people—and other human-rights organizations have called on Gov. Brad Little to oppose the bill.

“Instead of focusing on the escalating public health crisis that is COVID-19, Idaho lawmakers are focused on attacking transgender students,” Rob Todaro, press secretary of The Trevor Project, wrote in an email Tuesday. “If House Bill 500 becomes law, it would be the first in the nation to discriminate against trans student-athletes.”

Blaine County School District Communications Director Heather Crocker told the Express that if the bill passes, the board of trustees might need to reconsider the district’s gender-inclusion policy.

“This would be done with opportunity for public input, as with all of the board’s policies,” she said.

Adopted in August 2016, the School District’s gender-inclusion policy allows students to use restroom facilities and join sports teams that line up with their gender identity. The policy—which also applies to district employees, teachers and parents on school grounds or at school-related events—additionally grants transgender and gender-nonconforming students the right to be addressed by their preferred name and pronouns and stay with gender-similar groups on school excursions.

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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