You would hope anyone entrusted with the responsibility of serving her fellow citizens in the Idaho Legislature would be motivated by at least one principle:
First, do no harm.
Sadly, that lesson eludes Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls.
While her colleagues are content to occupy their time with more mundane matters such as taxes, budgets or regulations, Ehardt wages the culture wars.
Who knows why Ehardt is drawn to such behavior?
Maybe she’s doing the bidding of outside groups, such as the Idaho Freedom Foundation or the Alliance for Defending Freedom.
Perhaps she’s doing it for votes.
Could it be that Ehardt just can’t resist the temptation?
But if there’s a need to blow up the public schools’ attempt to deal with delicate student sexual education issues, Ehardt is on the job.
If you need someone to undermine newly installed Boise State University President Marlene Tromp with an ill-informed broadside against student diversity programs, call on Ehardt.
If you’re looking for an insensitive retort to allocating an inadequate sum of money toward suicide prevention among teenagers, count on Ehardt to soldier on.
Now she’s trying to ban transgender girls and women from playing sports in Idaho’s public schools and in its public institutions of higher learning. She says it’s unfair to other girls and women.
But Ehardt has to concede Idaho’s experience with this issue is nil.
“At this point, that has not happened, but it is just around the corner,” Ehardt told the House State Affairs Committee last week.
That’s not us saying it.
That’s assistant Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane saying it.
Time after time in his analysis of Ehardt’s bill, Kane points to its glaring weakness: a dearth of evidence.
“That evidence would need to overcome courts’ disapproval of ‘archaic and overbroad generalizations’ about the ability of transgender and non-transgender females,” Kane wrote. “While the draft legislation’s findings include citations to evidence showing that transgender females tend to have an athletic advantage over non-transgender females from a theoretical standpoint, it would be helpful to supplement these with evidence showing that non-transgender female athletes are actually displaced by transgender females to a substantial extent.”
Here’s what we do know:
l Mirroring NCAA and International Olympic Committee standards, the Idaho High School Activities Association requires a “male-to-female transgender student athlete ... (to) complete one year of hormone treatment related to the gender transition before competing on a girl’s team.”
That puts Idaho among the 10 most restrictive states in the U.S., according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Imposing an outright ban would put Idaho in a league of its own.
“Essentially, they would be overriding an already very extreme and restrictive policy to institute a rule that goes further than the IOC and the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) and looks more like the type of sex testing policies that the Olympics abandoned decades ago because they were found to be an egregious violation of people’s human rights,” says Chase Strangio, staff attorney with the ACLU.
l As Kane noted, Ehardt’s bill could subject student athletes whose gender has been “disputed” to invasive medical examinations, including “internal and external reproductive anatomy.” But the person who brings the dispute —even in bad faith — can act with impunity.
l One of the anecdotes prompting Ehardt’s bill is far from conclusive. The dispute takes place in Connecticut, where the policy toward transgender athletes is more lenient than in Idaho. After filing a lawsuit alleging transgender girls had an advantage over cisgender girls in track and field, one of the plaintiffs last week defeated her supposedly undefeatable transgender competitor.
l Can any place be less hospitable toward transgender students than conservative Idaho? The most recent GLSEN (formerly the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) says 84 percent of Idaho students report homophobic remarks as a fact of school life; 74 percent encounter regular transphobic remarks.
A National Center for Biotechnology Information survey found 50.8 percent of transgender males have attempted suicide; the rate is 29.9 percent for transgender females.
l Pass this bill into law and the ACLU will challenge its constitutionality in the federal courts. Kane’s analysis — and his request to “hold this proposed legislation until the next legislative session” — tells you what’s coming: another defeat with the state taxpayers covering legal fees for the winning side.
By then, of course, Ehardt will have moved on.
Who do you think she’s going to pick on next? — M.T.