A large coalition of student and professional athletes and advocacy groups are calling on the National Collegiate Athletic Association to boycott Idaho over a law banning transgender girls and women from female high school and college sports teams.
If the NCAA heeds this call, like it did in 2016 when it moved championship games out of North Carolina in response to a bill regulating transgender bathroom use, that would mean moving the first and second round 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship games that are scheduled to be held at Boise State University.
In three separate letters — one signed by more than 400 student-athletes, including two BSU athletes and others from schools such as Washington University in St. Louis, Lafayette College, and Colorado State University; one by 48 professional athletes including soccer star Megan Rapinoe, former professional tennis player Billie Jean King, NBA players Jason Collins and Reggie Bullock, and Chris Mosier, a transgender triathlete who has been an outspoken opponent of the new Idaho law; and one by 60 advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, the Trevor Project and the Southern Poverty Law Center — the athletes and organizations called on the NCAA not to hold any events in Idaho in 2021 and beyond.
"We have seen the impact when the NCAA chooses inclusivity," the student-athletes wrote in their letter." In 2016, the NCAA took a powerful stand against anti-LGBTQ discrimination in North Carolina by moving championship games out of the state, thus affirming its commitment to holding events that promote an inclusive atmosphere. Additionally, for nearly 15 years, the NCAA withheld South Carolina from hosting championships until the Confederate flag was removed from statehouse grounds. Similarly, this moment again calls for leadership and commitment to providing an inclusive and equitable environment for student athletes."
The North Carolina law, which all three letters referenced, preempted local anti-discrimination ordinances and required people to use the bathrooms in school and public facilities matching their sex on their birth certificates. The bill led to widespread protests and boycotts of North Carolina, and the bathroom portion was repealed in 2017.
"When North Carolina passed HB2 in 2016, the most extreme anti-LGBTQ law in the country at the time, the NCAA recognized that a law targeting transgender people’s access to restrooms went against their values, and subsequently relocated championship games from North Carolina," the advocacy groups wrote in their letter. "Like HB2, HB500 strikes directly at the core of the NCAA’s values, going even further in excluding students from college athletics."
House Bill 500, also called the Fairness in Women's Sports Act, was sponsored by former college basketball coach Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, and passed the Legislature this year on mostly party-line votes. Ehardt said she is proud to have authored the bill.
"Title IX changed my life," Ehardt said. "It provided opportunities for girls and women that previously had only been reserved for boys and men. I know firsthand that we simply cannot compete against the inherent physiological and scientifically proven advantages that biological males possess, regardless of hormone usage."
The ACLU of Idaho and the feminist group Legal Voice are challenging the law in federal court. The bill's supporters said it protects opportunities from women and girls by keeping them from having to compete against athletes who have advantages from being born male.
"Certainly I am disappointed to see fellow female athletes not support and encourage the success of girls and women as they pursue their own dreams," Ehardt said. "Maintaining a fair playing field that allows us to also stand atop the podium and experience the joys of winning is essential to this legislation. We do not want to lose almost 50 years of progress."
The NCAA lets transgender girls and women compete on female teams if they have been receiving hormone treatment for at least a year, and it issued a statement earlier this year opposing House Bill 500. The organization didn't immediately respond to a request for further comment on Wednesday's letters.
"Transgender athletes deserve the same dignity and respect entitled to all NCAA athletes," said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director for policy and action with the National Center for Transgender Equality. "Because of HB 500, that simply isn’t possible in Idaho. We applaud the NCAA for speaking out against HB 500 and now encourage them to back up their words with action."