Judge Halts Idaho’s Ban on Transgender Athletes in Women’s Sports

August 18, 2020 Updated: September 21, 2020

A federal judge on Monday has temporarily blocked Idaho from enacting a law that bars transgender student athletes from competing in women and girls’ sports, as a lawsuit challenging the ban moves forward.

U.S. District Judge David Nye, a Trump appointee, put Idaho’s Fairness in Women’s Sports Act on pause while he continues to decide whether the law violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment, noting that those suing Idaho over the Fairness Act “are likely to succeed in establishing the Act is unconstitutional as currently written.”

The current version of the law, which was signed by Republican Gov. Brad Little in March and went into effect in July, contains a provision allowing anyone to challenge a female athlete’s identity. It then would depend on the athletes to prove they’re biological females through a physical exam or genetic testing.

This particular provision, according to Nye, “burdens all female athletes with the risk and embarrassment of having to ‘verify’ their ‘biological sex’ in order to play women’s sports.”

“In making this determination, it is not just the constitutional rights of transgender girls and women athletes at issue but … the constitutional rights of every girl and woman athlete in Idaho,” Nye wrote (pdf). He also acknowledged that the decision “is likely to be controversial.”

Nye’s ruling means that transgender student athletes who wish to play on sports teams that align with their chosen gender identity would be able to do so in the upcoming fall semester.

The lawsuit was filed in April by three unnamed plaintiffs and Lindsay Hecox, a transgender first-year student at Boise State University who wants to run on the university’s female track and cross-country teams. All plaintiffs in the case are represented by LGBT-friendly American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“I feel a major sense of relief,” said Hecox in an ACLU press release. “I love running, and part of what I enjoy about the sport is building relationships with a team. I’m a girl, and the right team for me is the girls’ team. It’s time courts recognize that and I am so glad that the court’s ruling does.”

Meanwhile, Nye also allowed two athletes to intervene in defense of the Fairness Act. Madison Kenyon and Mary Kate Marshall, who run track and cross-country at Idaho State University in Pocatello, filed a motion in May to help defend the Idaho law against ACLU’s legal challenge.

“When I lose to another woman, I assume that she must train harder than I do and it drives me to work harder,” Marshall wrote. “If I lose to a man, it feels completely different. It’s deflating. I wonder whether he has to work as hard as I do, whether he was even trying, or was that an easy race for him. It makes me think that no matter how hard I try, my hard work and effort will not matter.”