Idaho’s transgender athlete legislation, and its faulty reasoning

Yi Shun Lai
3 min readMay 4, 2021

I heard a news report yesterday about Idaho’s latest court battle over transgender women and girls participating on women’s sports teams. The plaintiff is a transgender girl who wants to participate on her school’s track and field team; the defense is Idaho’s transgender sports ban.

Transgender flag against very light blue sky
“File:NPP NATIONAL PROGRESS PARTY FLAG 4.jpg” byUser:torbakhopper is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The defense is backed by a Christian advocacy group called Alliance Defending Freedom. The group’s name is deeply ironic — defending freedom for specific people is probably more accurate. And I’ll presume that there’s some sense out there of how incredibly dehumanizing and bigoted this whole issue is.

But one specific part of Alliance Defending Freedom’s argument stood out to me as being highly problematic: Its legal counsel says that the Idaho law should be framed in the context of Title IX.

From a layman’s perspective, this might be right. Title IX is broadly known as the amendment that gave rise to women’s collegiate and high school sports. But there’s something awry with Alliance Defending Freedom’s using it to justify the transgender sports ban.

From late 2019 to through spring 2020, I was steeped in Title IX as part of an exhibit I was writing for a museum. Title IX is 37 words long, and it is part of the education amendments of 1972. Here it is:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

Already there’s a huge hole in the defense’s platform: If transgender men and women are barred from women’s teams and they’re barred from men’s teams, where do they play, in our binary world? Isn’t that excluding transgender folks on the basis of their sex?

Once we open that door, some more cracks appear, because that binary world used to be a man’s world, and some school sports were really only open for men. See: American football; pole-vaulting; Little League Baseball.

Let’s do a little more deducing. Title IX had to be written, and equal rights in sports had to be codified, because a dominant party made up some rules that never should have existed in the first place. Why…

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Yi Shun Lai

Author: A SUFFRAGISTS’S GUIDE TO THE ANTARCTIC (2024), Pin Ups (2020). Columnist, The Writer. theGooddirt.org; @gooddirt. Psst: Say “yeeshun.” You can do it!