Idaho’s transgender athlete legislation, and its faulty reasoning

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:

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 couldn’t women play football? Because men decided it was a man’s sport. Why couldn’t girls be on the same Little League field as boys? Because at some point in time, some men decided that girls didn’t want to play baseball.

No one ever asked the girls, I’m sure. From Little League’s own page; emphases mine:

“In the 1920s, the American Legion formed a baseball program for teen-age boys that exists today. American schools also started baseball programs. But there was still a void for pre-teen boys who wanted to play in organized games.”

In other words, as with so much, a group of people with all the power decided they wanted something all to themselves. Doesn’t matter what it is: bathrooms; sports; water fountains; equal pay; land; education.

Look, I’m not a lawyer. And the number of laws and bills that are anti-transgender athletes (mostly trans women) that have been signed into place or have cleared both state legislative houses is staggering. (The first link I posted above has a handy chart, and you can read more from the Pew Charitable Trust here.) But I hope that Title IX argument goes away real soon.

Like the bans themselves, it just doesn’t make much sense. Here’s what would make more sense: more sports in which all genders get to share the field together. That’s what’s known as an even playing field.

Full disclosure: I’m cisgender. And I like people.

D&I educator; writing & editing. Author, Pin Ups (9/20). Columnist, The Writer mag.; @gooddirt on Twitter. Psst: Say “yeeshun.” You can do it!

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