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Montana Republican targets transgender youth with 2 new bills

State Rep. John Fuller, the bills’ sponsor, called gender-affirming care for transgender youth “barbaric.”

A Republican lawmaker in Montana has introduced a pair of bills targeting transgender youth.

House Bill 112, authored by state Rep. John Fuller, requires athletic teams at all public educational institutions — from elementary schools to colleges — to be designated based on “biological sex.” The measure, also known as the Save Women’s Sports Act, would prohibit transgender students from joining teams that match their gender identity, no matter how long ago they transitioned.

“Athletic teams or sports designated for females, women, or girls may not be open to students of the male sex,” it reads in part.

Montana Rep. John Fuller of Whitefish (R-HD8).
Montana Rep. John Fuller of Whitefish (R-HD8).Montana State Legislature

Fuller told Montana Public Radio that, as a former women’s soccer coach, he believes allowing transgender girls to play on women’s teams is unfair. His bill would allow students to sue if they feel they’ve been deprived or harmed in some way by a trans athlete participating in school sports.

"I want to protect and defend women’s sports,” he told the Helena Independent Record. “I believe this continued practice of allowing males to compete as females ... is egregious and wrong."

Another bill, also penned by Fuller, would bar health care professionals from providing transgender minors certain transition-related care.

Under House Bill 113, also known as An Act Providing for Youth Health Protection, physicians and other medical professionals are prohibited from treating gender dysphoria in minors by prescribing, providing or administering puberty-suppressing drugs or cross-sex hormones (including estrogen and testosterone); performing gender-reassignment surgery; or removing “any otherwise healthy or nondiseased body part or tissue.” Penalties for providers who violate the law would include fines of up to $50,000.

Fuller said it was “deeply wrong” for young people to undergo such procedures, according to Montana Public Radio. "We don't let children do all kinds of things," he told the Helena Independent Record. "Why should we allow this to happen? The state has a vested interest to protect children from such barbaric behavior."

Fuller did not respond to a request for comment from NBC News.

Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union, said that after the fallout from North Carolina’s House Bill 2, conservatives pivoted away from so-called “bathroom bills” toward legislation targeting trans youth.

“After the marriage decision, there was an immediate backlash on trans people using the bathroom — you saw dozens of these bills,” Strangio told NBC News. “Then you see the extremely affirming response — from companies, from the NCAA — and between 2017 and 2019 they lose the bathroom fight. There’s no more laws, they lose their court fights and they lose ballot initiatives.”

In 2018, Montana’s own bathroom bill garnered less than half of the 25,000 signatures needed to qualify for a state referendum.

Then, in 2019, Juniper Eastwood, a student at the University of Montana, became the first transgender runner to compete at the Division I level. That, according to Strangio, is “when conservatives start shifting to sports.”

“They start forming this narrative about trans student athletes that appears on Fox News, Breitbart, the Daily Caller. It attracts some cis women groups who were worried about female athletes,” he said, using a shortened term for the word cisgender, which means nontransgender.

That same year, Strangio said, a highly publicized custody battle involving a 7-year-old transgender girl in Texas became “another right-wing media moment.”

“By summer 2020, you have the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Heritage Foundation drafting these model trans-youth bills,” he added. “They’re not constituent-led. They’re put together by well-funded right- wing groups and shipped out to state legislatures. And they play on people’s fears and misconceptions.”

In 2020, the Michigan-based American Principles Project spent $4 million on political ads denouncing transgender athletes and access to gender-affirming health care for people under 18.

In addition to Montana, at least six other states — including Alabama, Indiana, New Hampshire, Mississippi, Missouri and Utah — are currently considering bills levying criminal or civil penalties for offering transition care to minors, according to the ACLU.

Lawmakers have sponsored legislation restricting transgender students from sports participation in at least 12 states, including Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Washington. Only Idaho’s bill has passed so far.

Idaho’s House Bill 500, the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, was signed by Republican Gov. Brad Little last March. A month later, Lindsay Hecox, a transgender student athlete at Boise State University, filed a lawsuit challenging the law. After a lower court issued an injunction against enforcement, HB 500 is now before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a friend-of-the-court brief, nearly 200 elite female athletes — including Billie Jean King, Megan Rapinoe and Candace Parker — argued HB 500 “flies in the face of bedrock principles of equality and diversity in sports.”

“The global athletic community grows stronger when we welcome and champion all athletes — including LGBTQI+ athletes.” King said in a statement.

Strangio said Montana’s HB 112 is practically “a carbon copy” of Idaho’s law.

Readings for both Montana bills were rescheduled from Wednesday to Jan. 20 to allow for public comment. Republicans, who currently control both chambers of the Montana state Legislature, will have until April to pass the measure this legislative session.

The ACLU of Montana has promised to sue if that happens.

On Thursday, more than 150 state nonprofits, businesses and professional groups joined the organization in opposing Fuller.

“Make no mistake: these bills target and attack trans youth and will cause them serious and lasting harm,” ACLU of Montana Executive Director Caitlin Borgmann said in a statement. “We cannot let fear mongering and lies about what it means to be transgender result in laws that would stigmatize trans youth, harm families and communities, and drive businesses away from Montana.”

Bozeman restaurateur Pete Strom pointed to the economic toll HB 112 and 113 could take by recalling the fallout from North Carolina's HB2 "bathroom bill." In 2016, North Carolina lost an estimated $630 million in economic activity related to HB2, according to Forbes.

“Montana doesn’t need that,” he said in a statement. “It’s simply common sense to oppose these out-of-touch and harmful anti-trans bills.”

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