This editorial was published by the Post Register of Idaho Falls.
Everyone who knows Rep. Barb Ehardt knows she cares deeply about sports, particularly about women’s sports.
She had a successful career in basketball, and she’s trained and coached countless youths in the local community.
But it almost didn’t happen. When Ehardt was growing up, discrimination was the norm.
As Ehardt told the House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday, when she was growing up the options that appeared to be available to women were secretary or stewardess. When she said she wanted to pursue sports, she was told, “That’s not what girls do.”
But the Title IX program, which in 1972 forbid sex discrimination in school sports, opened possibilities that had been denied to previous generations. Ehardt became a college athlete and later a Division I coach.
Ehardt’s success is proof of the good that nondiscrimination policy has done. And so it’s disheartening that she is pushing a bill that will deny equal treatment to others.
Ehardt has sponsored a bill that would forbid transgender women from competing in women’s athletics. Her bill is a blunt instrument for a complex issue that is still not well understood scientifically.
Ehardt’s bill is based on the belief that transgender women retain an unfair advantage over other women after gender transition, a process that involves testosterone-suppressing hormone treatment.
(When athletes cheat to gain an advantage, they often take anabolic steroids, which mimic testosterone. Transgender women effectively take anti-steroids during their transition.)
The bill cites a single, very limited study involving fewer than a dozen transgender women as definitive evidence that this unfair advantage exists. But other studies have found quite different results.
(For those who want to review the current evidence in detail, Dr. Jordan Feigenbaum has published an extensive review of the existing scientific literature called “Shades of Gray,” which cites nearly 100 sources and includes discussion of the study cited in Ehardt’s bill.)
The vast majority of sports organizations, including the Idaho High School Activities Association, the NCAA and the International Olympic Committee have all reviewed the scientific evidence and found that transgender women do not have an unfair advantage after a period of testosterone suppression.
This points to one fatal flaw in Ehardt’s bill: It preempts organizations like the Idaho High School Activities Association and the NCAA from doing their work, substituting direct government control. The rules would be cemented in law and unlikely to be regularly reviewed as new evidence emerges in this little-studied field.
Should the Legislature write into state code what kind of cleats football players must wear? The proper weight classes for wrestlers? The necessary length of a soccer field?
These are questions best left to groups like the Activities Association and the NCAA. They are more qualified than lawmakers to make these decisions, just as they are more qualified to make decisions about transgender competition.
Idaho’s current rules require a full year of testosterone suppression before transgender women can compete in the women’s division, similar to rules governing the NCAA and the Olympics. Perhaps new evidence will show that isn’t a long enough period to make competition fair. If that happens, the Activities Association is better equipped than the Legislature to tweak the rules.
Ehardt’s bill appears to respond to a nonexistent problem. The Activities Association has not received a single complaint from a female athlete about a transgender competitor.
Beyond these problems with the bill’s efficacy, it is simply unjust.
Ehardt knows what it’s like to be told you can’t play.
“That was crushing,” she said, remembering the less-enlightened days when she was denied a place on the court.
Ehardt’s bill would do the same thing, and to a group that already suffers immensely from stigma and isolation.
Among adolescent transgender boys, more than half have a history of suicide attempts. So do nearly one-third of transgender girls.
After a lifetime in youth sports, has Ehardt thought about the kids she is crushing now?