To hear some conservative politicians tell it, the greatest threat to women’s sports isn’t sexism or lack of support, but people like Lindsay Hecox.
Hecox is a student at Boise State University in Idaho. She has loved running for years, having competed in track and cross-country while in high school in California. But the state of Idaho doesn’t want her to run on the women’s teams — because she’s transgender.
Idaho, in 2020, became the first state to enact a law barring trans student-athletes, especially trans girls and women, from competing under their gender identity at all public schools, including state colleges and universities. In 2021, eight other states have followed (seven by legislative action, one by a governor’s executive orders) and similar legislation is pending in several more.
But Hecox is fighting back. Now based in Boise, she’s the lead plaintiff in a suit against the Idaho law, and a federal judge has issued an injunction that blocks it from being enforced while the court challenge proceeds. The state has appealed, but Hecox is cautiously optimistic that she and other trans athletes will get justice.
“I was already very passionate about the issue by the time I got to college,” says Hecox, who entered Boise State in September 2019, before Idaho passed the anti-trans legislation. She testified at hearings on the measure, and when it became law, she sued. Hecox is represented by American Civil Liberties Union, the nonprofit Legal Voice, and the law firm of Cooley LLP.
Hecox was attracted to running in high school because she saw that athletes in track and cross-country were warm, friendly, and accepting of their teammates, no matter their skill level. So she competed in those sports throughout high school — under the gender she was assigned at birth.
Hecox came out as trans after high school, telling her best friend after they did a run together.
“He was kind of surprised, but there was nothing negative about it,” she says. He’s totally accepted her as she is. “He probably has little memory of the old me now.”
Hecox wasn’t eligible to try out for the women’s teams when she first started at BSU, as the National Collegiate Athletic Association requires trans women to have been on testosterone-suppressing medication for a year before they can compete on female teams. Once she became eligible, and with the exclusionary Idaho law blocked, she tried out for the women’s track team in October of last year.
The result may surprise those who claim trans women have an inherent and unfair advantage over cis ones: She didn’t make the team.
There were simply “too many good female athletes” at Boise State, she says. “I’m kind of good…but not elite,” she says. She intends to try again.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard Idaho’s appeal of the trial judge’s injunction in May, and a decision is expected in a couple of months. The trial judge, U.S. District Judge David Nye, had noted in imposing the injunct ion t hat t he law is on sha k y constitutional ground.
Other states have passed similar bills, which have been signed into law.
If the Idaho injunction is upheld, it could scare other states off of passing transexclusionary laws. Another encouraging sign is that in a few states, governors have vetoed or discouraged such legislation.
“I feel very optimistic at this point,” Hecox says. “I hope the right side of history continues to get victories.”