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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho Legislature passes bills to limit gender expression, ban compelled pronoun use

The Rev. Sara LaWall drops hearts down the rotunda of the Idaho State Capitol Building. Protestors on April 2, 2024, dropped 48,000 handmade hearts – meant to represent LGBTQ Idahoans – in protest of anti-LGBTQ legislation.  (Kyle Pfannenstiel/Idaho Capital Sun)
By Kyle Pfannenstiel Idaho Capital Sun

The Idaho Legislature approved two bills that would define sex as either “male or female” and block government entities from compelling employees to use preferred personal titles or pronouns that don’t correspond with people’s biological sex.

The Idaho Senate on Tuesday approved House Bill 421, which would change the legal definition of “sex” to “an individual’s biological sex, either male or female.” It would also consider the word gender as a synonym of that definition of sex, and create legal definitions of the words boy, father, female, girl, male and mother.

Sen. Ben Adams, R-Nampa, who sponsored the bill, said “it’s not erasing anybody.” He said gender is referenced 32 times in Idaho law, and always references biological sex.

“This is fundamentally defining what we already know. And Legislatures, both past and present, have diligently worked to ensure our laws need to be objective, not subjective,” Adams said.

“Just because you say it, it doesn’t make it real. I have a 3-year-old and a 9-year-old and if I wear a gorilla suit, my child might actually believe I’m a gorilla,” Adams said on the Senate floor. “But that doesn’t make me a gorilla. I’m still a human being in a gorilla suit.”

Idaho has paid $14 million over the last decade trying to defend similar laws, said Sen. Mary Shea, substituting for Sen. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello.

She said the bill is “clearly intended to dictate gender policy in Idaho.”

“This language – it may seem harmless to you. It’s going to be cannon fodder for the litigation that’s already filed against Idaho. It also could be a new civil rights case the first time an Idaho citizen is denied rights or privileges because of these definitions,” Shea said. “And they will be struck down. If you’re treating people unequally, they will be struck down.”

The Idaho Senate passed House Bill 421 on a 26-8 vote. All seven Senate Democrats opposed the bill, along with Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland.

Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Viola, said the bill is full of common sense.

“The seminal documents of most major religions profess that the almighty created two sexes, two genders – whatever you want to call it. This bill supports that conclusion,” Foreman said.

Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, said the bill wrongly equates gender and sex as the same thing.

“If this is an incremental move to try to deny rights to people who don’t identify as one of those two things, then that will end up in court. Because that is discrimination,” Wintrow said.

“These conditions that we’re nurturing are an on ramp to discrimination and violence,” Wintrow said. “And I am asking you to not go down that path. And to please expand our minds and expand our hearts to let the entire diversity of the human experience exist in the peace that they want to exist in.”

The Idaho Senate on Thursday also passed House Bill 538, which would prohibit any government entity from compelling a public employee to use the preferred personal titles or pronouns that do not correspond with the biological sex of an individual.

The Idaho Senate passed House Bill 538 on a 25-9 vote. All seven Senate Democrats opposed the bill, along with Lee and Sen. Linda Hartgen, R-Twin Falls.

The bills go to Idaho Gov. Brad Little for consideration.