Court hears arguments on controversial transgender bathroom law

Federal Chief District Judge David Nye heard arguments on Idaho’s controversial school bathroom law Wednesday morning, as opponents sought an injunction to block the law.

Nye took no action on the motion. But the law is currently on hold. The U.S. District Court imposed a temporary block on the law on Aug. 10, after a Boise middle schooler and a Boise High School LGBTQ+ organization filed a July 7 lawsuit, saying the new state law discriminates against transgender students.

Senate Bill 1100, signed by Gov. Brad Little during the 2023 legislative session, prevents transgender students from using the school bathroom, locker room or changing facility that aligns with their gender identity. Instead, students must use facilities that align with their “biological sex,” or sex assigned at birth. If a student is unwilling or unable to use the bathroom corresponding with their sex assigned at birth, they can request that the school make accommodations for them to use a single-use restroom or alternate facility.

A private action clause in the law allows students to seek a minimum of $5,000 in damages if they encounter a transgender student in a bathroom that doesn’t align with their biological sex.

School administrators requested that lawmakers pass SB 1100 to clear up confusion about hot-button school bathroom policies, which have gained attention on local school boards over recent years. The law briefly took effect July 1.

Nye heard arguments Wednesday on a motion for preliminary injunction, another temporary action that would preserve the status quo until the courts make a final decision. The hearing was the latest movement in the suit since Aug. 10.

Peter Renn, an attorney from Lambda Legal, argued that SB 1100 violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 by singling out transgender youth, and preventing them from using the bathrooms that align with their gender identity — a decision cisgender students get to make every day.

Renn said the law disrupted Idaho’s status quo, and forced some districts (like Boise) to reverse their inclusive bathroom policies, despite a lack of evidence that such policies were harmful.

Renn said 60 districts and charters had inclusive policies prior to the passage of SB 1100, and none of those policies resulted in documented instances of cisgender students pretending to be transgender, or of transgender students causing harm in the bathrooms. That lack of evidence, he said, is critical to the case.

“The government is not allowed to just rely on its own imagination,” he told the court Wednesday.

By singling students out, exposing their identities and violating their right to privacy, Renn said SB 1100 could cause serious psychological harm to transgender students, who are already at a higher risk for depression, anxiety and suicide.

Lincoln Wilson, a lawyer from Attorney General Raúl Labrador’s office, defended SB 1100.

Wilson said the law upholds the status quo: sex-separated, male and female bathrooms. He denied that the law was implemented with any malice toward transgender youth, arguing that by including an option to receive single-use restroom accommodations, lawmakers wanted to avoid causing harm to students.

Wilson went on to challenge Renn’s arguments, taking shots at testimony from Stephanie Budge, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who founded a collaborative intended to improve research on trans, Two Spirit and nonbinary individuals. Budge submitted testimony about the importance of gender-affirming social transitions for transgender students, including the use of bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.

Wilson called Budge an “admitted activist” for LGBTQ+ causes and said her research is “not reliable.”

Wednesday’s arguments revealed two different conceptualizations of sex and gender identity under the law. While Wilson argued that sex is “biological,” “binary” and “immutable,” Renn said the existence of transgender, nonbinary, intersex and other identities proves that it’s a spectrum.

“The government has to grapple with that reality,” he said.

After a 90-minute hearing, Nye adjourned court. He said he’ll have a decision soon, but the ruling could be delayed due to his upcoming vacation.

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber

Reporter Sadie Dittenber focuses on K-12 policy and politics. She is a College of Idaho graduate, born and raised in the Treasure Valley. You can follow Sadie on Twitter @sadiedittenber and send her news tips at [email protected].

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