UPDATE: Governor Brad Little signed the two bills into law Monday night.. Our earlier story is below.
As the United States battles the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers in Idaho quietly passed the first two anti-transgender bills in the country to be approved by both houses of a state legislature. And with residents under a "stay-at-home" order, protesters lost the opportunity to make their voices heard in person.
Now LGBTQ+ rights advocates are calling on Idaho's Republican Governor Brad Little to veto the measures, known as House Bill 500 and House Bill 509. The deadline to veto the two anti-transgender bills is March 31 — coinciding with International Transgender Day of Visibility.
"This legislation discriminates against transgender individuals and presents a dangerous potential for the invasion of privacy of all Idaho students," the ACLU of Idaho said in a statement. "It distracts from the urgent need for the State of Idaho to focus its attention on the global pandemic, COVID-19."
House Bill 500 would ban transgender women and girls from competing in girls' sports at public schools and state colleges and universities in Idaho. The legislation, referred to as the Fairness in Women's Sports Act, only applies to transgender students wanting to participate in girls' or women's sports, even if they identify as female. The bill does not apply to transgender students who identify as male and want to participate in boys' or men's sports.
House Bill 509 would block transgender people from changing the gender designation on their Idaho birth certificates. Under the bill, a birth certificate could only be amended within one year of its filing; after that, it can only be changed via a court challenge, "on the basis of fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact."
Several of the largest companies doing business in Idaho have spoken out against the bills. In a letter jointly signed by Chobani, Clif Bar, HP and Micron, the companies called on the Idaho Legislature to support the state's diverse communities and reject divisive legislation.
"Passage of these bills could hurt our ability to attract and retain top talent to Idaho, and it could damage Idaho's ability to attract new businesses and create new jobs," the letter stated.
And Mark Peters, the president of Battelle Energy and director of Idaho National Laboratory, wrote in a separate letter earlier this month that he was "hearing concerns within INL and throughout our community about the substance and tone of discussions taking place this legislative session and how those negatively impact the way Idaho is perceived outside our borders."
Opponents of HB 500 also warned that the bill invades the privacy of Idaho's youth, since it contains a provision that would permit schools to verify the biological sex of an athlete through sports physical examinations.
"If HB 500 becomes law, it will send a strong message to trans youth that they are less than their peers and not deserving of community and acceptance. We implore Governor Little and other legislative leaders to stand up and reject this discriminatory measure," Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a statement.
Chris Mosier, the first transgender athlete to qualify for the Olympic trials in a category different from their sex assigned at birth, has faith that Governor Little will veto the bills.
"Governor Little has said that he's not a big discrimination guy," Mosier told CBS News. "His decision to veto these bill, or to do nothing, will make a statement for the future of transgender rights." Mosier has also spoken out against similar proposals in other states.
Other activist are also cautiously hopeful. "We've remained optimistic throughout this whole legislative process that Governor Little will do the right thing. For him to veto these bills will show that he's committed to what he says, and is not willing to tolerate discrimination at the hands of the legislature," said Kathy Griesmyer, policy director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho.
Asked about the two bills in February, the governor appeared to express some concerns about the pending anti-trans legislation. "Obviously, we have to comply with constitutional challenges," Little said. He also said, "Some of these [bills] are a reaction to things that are happening in other states that might not be quite that applicable here in Idaho."
The Idaho governor's remarks led some to believe that he could possibly veto the bills, although he has not announced a final position.
If HB 500 and HB 509 become law, Idaho will be the first state to have such anti-transgender laws on the books. And a legal challenge would follow.
"If House Bill 500 [on school sports] does become law our organization is prepared to sue," said Griesmyer. "We've been advising lawmakers all session about the legal concerns that are entangled in the bill. We stand by that commitment to take the state to court if House Bill 500 becomes law."