HELENA -- Montana lawmakers held a lengthy hearing Monday on a pair of bills that would create new restrictions around transgender youth.
The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on House Bills 112 and 113, both sponsored by Rep. John Fuller, a Republican from Kalispell.
HB 112 would require public schools and colleges to designate their athletic teams specifically for male athletes, for female athletes or as mixed, based on biological sex. It would block transgender women and girls from participating in competitions designated for female athletes.
Supporters of the bill argued that transgender athletes maintain innate physical advantages over other female athletes, even after beginning hormone therapy. They said HB 112 was intended to create a level playing field for women and girls to compete.
One of those speaking in favor was Idaho Republican state Rep. Barbara Ehardt, who sponsored a similar bill in that state, signed into law last year. That bill is currently held up in court, with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals hearing an appeal after a federal judge placed a temporary injunction on it.
Ehardt, a former college athlete and coach, said women's and girls sports had created enormous benefits, and that allowing transgender athletes to participate would mean fewer opportunities for others.
“I submit to you that, if you don’t pass legislation such as this, that it will come to the day where there will be no room, no place, for women to compete, and at that point, I say to you, where shall we go, against whom shall we compete, and to whom shall we turn for redress?” she said.
But opponents of HB 112 said it was discriminatory against transgender people and would essentially block them from receiving the same benefits of participating in organized sports. They argued it could not be successfully implemented without invading students’ privacy.
Opponents questioned the need for the bill.
“The image of ‘trans women ruining the integrity of women’s sports’ paints a false picture of life as a trans woman,” said Zooey Zephyr, a former student-athlete in wrestling who said, since transitioning as an adult, her athletic abilities are not significantly different from other women’s. “It incorrectly claims that we have a competitive advantage, and it misses why trans people transition in the first place – which is to lead a happier life.”
Opponents said, if HB 112 becomes law, it too will likely be challenged in court.
Few issues have been reported in connection with transgender athletes competing in Montana high school sports. At the college level, the University of Montana’s June Eastwood made history in 2019 as the first male-to-female transgender athlete to compete in an NCAA Division I cross country race, and then won the mile at the 2020 Big Sky Conference women’s indoor track and field championships.
The second bill heard Monday, House Bill 113, would prohibit health care providers from performing sex reassignment or gender confirmation procedures on those younger than 18. The bill specifically refers to administering puberty-blocking drugs or sex hormones for gender dysphoria and to gender reassignment surgery.
Supporters claimed the full effects of these procedures are not fully understood and that minors shouldn’t be in the position of making decisions that could have long-reaching effects on their health.
“It protects children, and only children, only from consequences that they do not know about and they should not be allowed to undergo until they are an adult and free to make free-will choices,” said Fuller.
However, opponents said these medical procedures were offered based on best practices, and that having access to these medical procedures was important for transgender youth. They said the Legislature shouldn’t stand in the way of providers offering these services.
“HB 113 would force courageous kids like my son who are living in pain and dysphoria to wait and suffer longer because they can’t get the help they need,” said Jaime Gabrielli, who has a transgender son. “Making necessary medical care that trans kids rely on illegal does not protect them.”
Many of those testifying Monday spoke on both bills, with the majority of those in opposition. The Montana Family Foundation and several individuals were in support of HB 112 and 113. A number of LGBTQ advocacy groups and medical providers were among those testifying against the bills.
The committee took no immediate action on either bill.