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Bill defining ‘gender’ as ‘sex’ in law advances. Transgender Idahoans say it erases them

Transgender people and allies of trans youth hold signs at the Idaho Capitol at a celebration rally after the Senate killed a 2022 bill criminalizing gender-affirming care.  (Sarah A. Miller/Idaho Statesman)
By Ian Max Stevenson Idaho Statesman

BOISE – Idaho House lawmakers passed a bill defining “gender” as synonymous with “sex” Wednesday, furthering what transgender, nonbinary and intersex Idahoans have said is an effort to erase them.

House Bill 421, sponsored by Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, defines gender as a “synonym for ‘sex’ and shall not be considered as a synonym for gender identity, an internal sense of gender, experienced gender, gender expression, or gender role.” It also would mandate that gendered terms like “boy,” “father” and “mother” be used to only refer to a person’s sex at birth.

“Having clear definitions is critical to our ability to both communicate and to craft policy,” Young told a legislative committee last month. She told lawmakers Wednesday that she wants to have “clear communication about biological realities” while still being “respectful.”

Young said she received counsel from the Heritage Foundation and Alliance Defending Freedom on the bill. The alliance is a conservative, Christian legal advocacy group that Attorney General Raúl Labrador hired to defend Idaho’s abortion ban against a lawsuit in federal court.

At last month’s hearing, many transgender Idahoans and others in their testimony said the bill is discriminatory. Sydney Madsen, an intersex person, told lawmakers last month that the new law “lacks factual basis” by requiring that people be defined as a binary sex – an understanding that excludes people who have characteristics of both sexes.

Bill ‘threat to my humanity,’ trans woman says

The changes would contradict a widely recognized distinction between the biological characteristics of men and women and the social meanings of gender. Transgender people identify as a gender different from their sex assigned at birth. “Gender identity” refers to a person’s “internal sense of being male, female, some combination of male and female, or neither male nor female,” according to Merriam-Webster.

The bill “overlooks a diversity of gender identities that exist beyond the binary framework,” said Emily Jackson-Edney, a transgender woman. It “poses a personal threat to my humanity,” she said.

“This bill would effectively erase my existence and the existence of others in my community,” said Nikson Mathews, who is also transgender. “If passed, it will most certainly lead to another costly lawsuit that our taxpayers pay for.”

The ACLU of Idaho has called the bill “dangerous.” House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, on the floor also called the bill harmful.

“This doesn’t do anything to make anybody’s life any better – it only harms,” Rubel said. It makes “an already vulnerable, beleaguered minority feel further persecuted, (and) feel that their government wants to legislate them out of existence.”

Idaho law banning gender-affirming care on hold

Some members of the House said they were concerned about passing other legislation impacting transgender people while a law enacted by the Legislature last year that bans gender-affirming care for minors is tied up in court. A federal appeals court affirmed a hold on the law, which would have gone into effect last month.

Rep. Mark Sauter, R-Sandpoint, who voted against House Bill 421, said he would prefer to wait until that lawsuit is settled before considering it. Meanwhile, Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, said he has “every confidence” that Idaho’s ban will prevail in the courts.

“We’re going to run into problems with our legislation if we can’t even define man, woman,” he said.

The House passed the bill 54-14.