Gus Kenworthy
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Montana Pushes Anti-Trans Bills, Sets Up Battle With Biden Admin

Greg Gianforte

Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte (above) has not said if he will sign the bills if they reach his desk, but he is known for hostility to trans people.

Montana legislators are considering two bills targeting transgender youth — one that would restrict their participation in school sports and another that would prevent them from accessing gender-affirming care.

The Montana House Judiciary Committee Thursday voted 11-8 to advance the bill on athletics to the full House of Representatives. House Bill 112, titled the Save Women's Sports Act, would bar trans youth from competing on school sports teams that comport with their gender identity. The bill parrots an Idaho law that restricts options for trans student athletes. The Idaho law, passed last year, was backed by the Trump administration, but a federal judge temporarily blocked implementation amid a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Numerous states have proposed similar laws, claiming trans athletes — specifically trans girls — have an unfair advantage over their cisgender peers. But some scientists as well as activists, however, say trans females do not have an inherent advantage and that many other factors, such as training, physical size, and more, can make a difference in an athlete’s performance.

A House committee Friday approved House Bill 113, which would prevent doctors from offering gender-affirming health care to minors. This includes drug treatment, such as hormones or puberty blockers, in addition to gender-related surgeries. Titled the Youth Health Protection Act, it claims to protect young people "from any form of pressure to undergo irreversible medical procedures to change sex prior to attaining the age of majority."

However, treatment with hormones or puberty blockers is totally reversible, and genital surgery is not generally performed on minors. Some trans male minors do opt for top surgery.

Activists are speaking out strongly against both bills, which will now go before the full House. On a Thursday press call organized by the Human Rights Campaign, Montana pediatrician Lauren Wilson said it's "absolutely" possible to both celebrate women's sports and welcome transgender participants." As a pediatrician, I say let the kids play," she said.

"House Bill 112 breaks my heart," added June Eastwood, a trans woman who ran on the University of Montana cross-country team. She made many friends and gained confidence while competing, and the bill would deny that experience to trans kids, she said. It will only cause harm and suffering, she noted.  

Regarding the bill on medical care, Jamie Gabrielli, the mother of a transgender son, said gender-affirming care saves lives, given the high rate of suicide among trans youth. Being transgender is neither a choice nor negotiable, she added, and no one takes transition lightly. "Immorality and impulsivity are not part of being transgender," she said. If the bill passes, it will force young trans people to wait and suffer longer.

Aside from the participants in the press call, other activists have spoken out against the Montana bills, including the Trevor Project.

Should the Montana bill targeting student athletes pass, it will conflict with an executive order signed by President Biden on his first day in office. The order states, “Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.” Because of the executive order, the anti-trans bill could imperil federal education funding and would also violate Montana's constitutional right to privacy, Democratic state legislator Robert Farris-Olsen warned, according to the Associated Press.

Participants in the conference call agreed this is a concern. Biden's order specifically cites Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which applies to sex discrimination in employment; the Supreme Court last year ruled that sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, the new president is expected to apply the same interpretation to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bans sex discrimination in education.

Opponents of the anti-trans bills also said there is likely to be backlash if they pass, harming Montana's economy. North Carolina was the subject of boycotts in 2016 after passing its notorious House Bill 2, which restricted trans people's access to restrooms in government buildings and barred local governments from enacting or enforcing LGBTQ-inclusive civil rights ordinances. HB 2 has now been mostly repealed.

Greg Gianforte, Montana's newly installed Republican governor, has not said whether he would sign either bill should they reach his desk, the Montana Free Press reports. However, "in past interviews, the governor has referred to transgender women as 'men' and said he does not support their participation on women’s sports teams," according to the paper. 

“We are very early in the lengthy legislative process, and the governor will carefully review any bill the Legislature sends to his desk,” Gianforte aide Brooke Stroyke told the Free Press.

Montana is the first state to consider anti-trans legislation in 2021 but will not be the last, Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director for HRC, said on the conference call. Last year a record 79 such bills were considered at the state level, and this year is likely to see another record, Oakley said.

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