A Whitefish Republican wants to ban transgender athletes from competing in K-16 sports — a move a federal judge blocked in a similar bill from Idaho.
Idaho District Court Judge David C. Nye said Idaho’s bill “stands in stark contrast to the policies of elite athletic bodies that regulate sports both nationally and globally” when granting the injunction, which is currently being appealed.
In another bill sponsored by Rep. John Fuller, R-Whitefish, doctors could be fined as much as $50,000 for providing specific medical care to trans youth. Organizations such as the American College of Physicians, which describes itself as the largest medical specialty society in the world, already have guidelines for treating trans youth.
Fuller said he is not worried about the court decision, but said he is worried about protecting women’s sports and children receiving “irreversible” gender altering procedures they may regret in 20 years. “These bills are designed to protect the health of children and to protect women’s sports,” Fuller said. He added, “cutting off pieces of healthy flesh is irreversible.”
A study conducted from 1972 to 2015 in Amsterdam found that 0.6% of trans women and 0.3% of trans men regret medically transitioning.
Lauren Wilson, a pediatrician and vice president of the Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the organization representing 130 pediatricians in the state strongly opposes both bills. She said the bills would prevent trans youth from being able to participate in healthy activities like team sports and from being able to receive proper medical care.
She also said the threat from the state to fine doctors for carrying out recommended care for trans youth puts them at “conflict between providing good care and following the law.”
The bills were scheduled to be heard by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday but were postponed due to an overfilled agenda, according to House Democratic spokesman Nathan Stein.
House Bill 112, dubbed the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” would limit sports participation to the gender the child was assigned at birth in K-16 sports. And House Bill 113, called the “Youth Protection Act,” proposes that doctors can be fined up as much as $50,000 for treating trans youth for gender dysphoria or for providing other gender-affirming care.
Bills similar to HB 112 have been proposed in more than 20 other states, but only one has been signed into law and eight have failed, according to a website dedicated to the act.
A 2019 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 2% of high school students identify as transgender. The data also showed 27% feel unsafe at school, 35% are bullied and 35% attempt suicide.
Civil rights groups like the Montana affiliate the American Civil Liberties Union and Montana Women Vote said they plan to fight these bills.
“These are just such problematic bills,” Wilson said.
HOUSE BILL 112
HB-112 bill argues that men generally have “denser, stronger bones, tendons, and ligaments” and “larger hearts, greater lung volume per body mass, a higher red blood cell count, and higher hemoglobin” and because of that the participation of trans women in women’s sports would create unfair competition.
Fuller said the goal of the bill is to “correct the injustice to all female athletes that are being forced to compete against transgender females.”
“There is not good evidence that children assigned male at birth, who have begun gender transition to female without going through male puberty (which is best practice per current national medical guidelines), truly have advantages in athletics,” Wilson wrote in a pre-written testimony.
A 2011 report by the National College Association of Athletes’ Office of Inclusion said that idea the participation of transgender athletes would be detrimental to competitive equity was “unfounded.”
The NCAA has allowed the participation of trans athletes for years. To ensure fairness, it has implemented rules like requiring trans women athletes to undergo one year of testosterone suppression therapy before being able to compete.
In the same 2011 report, the NCAA addressed the myth that some men might pretend to be female to compete on a women’s team and said, “in the entire 40 year history of ‘sex verification’ procedures in international sport competitions, no instances of such ‘fraud’ have been revealed.”
A legal note attached to the bill said it may be in violation of Article X of the Montana Constitution. Legal notes are composed by staff attorneys for the Legislature and seek to give legal opinions on pending legislation.
That law provides that “the government and control of the Montana university system is vested in a board of regents of higher education,” which has full power to manage campuses.
However, Fuller, a retired teacher, responded to the legal analysis, “It is my belief that Title IX of the 1972 Federal Education Amendments is being violated by the practice of transgender men participating in women’s sports thus violating the equal opportunity athletic access that Title IX intends. Consequently, it is the Legislature’s Constitutional duty to rectify this egregious violation of Federal law by a State bureaucracy.”
Wilson, though, said the bill is unnecessary. “We’re talking about school kids … and we are stigmatizing them and preventing them from playing on sports teams. And playing sports teams is important for emotional, physical and social growth,” Wilson said.
The ACLU also weighed in on the issue in a report titled “Four Myths About Trans Athletes, Debunked.”
“Excluding women who are trans hurts all women. It invites gender policing that could subject any woman to invasive tests or accusations of being ‘too masculine’ or ‘too good’ at their sport to be a ‘real’ woman,” read the ACLU report.
Oakleigh Reed, a doctoral student at the University of Montana currently doing his residency in clinical psychology, took issue with the argument the bill makes to limit participation to the individual’s gender assigned at birth.
“There is so much more research showing that biological sex is just one part of a person’s identity,” said Reed, who identifies as a trans man. “Physical activity and being able to engage in sports is shown to be one of the most protective factors against depression, stress, anxiety.”
Reed, who stressed he was speaking only on behalf of himself, also said youth shouldn’t have to choose between sports and being their true selves.
“My school district wasn’t very accommodating,” he said. “I had to pull out of sports because I wasn’t willing to make the concession to compete with women because I didn’t identify that way.”
HOUSE BILL 113
HB-113 would allow the state to fine health care workers as much as $50,000 if they “prescribe, provide, or administer puberty-suppressing drugs or cross-sex hormones to a minor to treat gender dysphoria; perform gender reassignment surgery on a minor to treat gender dysphoria; or remove any otherwise healthy or non-diseased body part or tissue of a minor to treat gender dysphoria.”
“This is a huge intrusion by the state of Montana into decisions that are usually made by a patient and their doctor,” Wilson said. “This is not a fringe issue … many national health orgs have put out guidelines for optimal care for youth gender nonconformity or gender dysmorphia.”
She also named The American Psychological Association and American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology as having carefully developed guidelines for treating transgender youth.
Providing gender affirming care — even simply using preferred gender pronouns — can reduce the risk of suicide by 70%, Wilson said.
There is no medical intervention before a child enters puberty, only supporting children in expressing themselves in a way that feels authentic for them, Wilson said. The next step is using puberty blockers, which are fully reversible. Surgical procedures, when done, are done much later and only when felt necessary by the patient, guardians (if under the age of 18), and treating team. She said only about a quarter of transgender individuals do get surgery, and “bottom” or genital surgeries are generally recommended for after the age of 18. Said Wilson: “It’s not a decision that is made willy-nilly.”
Reed, the UM doctoral student, said there is “no doubt that providers are the experts on providing care for trans individuals and it shouldn’t be left to legislation.”
“We take oaths to do no harm,” Reed said. “[HB 113] is contradicting that oath and forcing people in a professional capacity to potentially do harm by not allowing patients access to those services.”
Reed said he started realizing his true identity around two or three years old, which research shows is the age most kids start realizing their true genders.
“Going through the physical transition myself I never once felt as if my questions weren’t answered. People usually have pretty darn good clarity in what they want in life,” Reed said.
In a story from the Montana Free Press about this issue, it also included these following resources: If you are transgender or questioning your gender identity and want to talk to a supportive person, the number for the Trans Lifeline is 877-565-8860. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.