State governments around the country have reacted differently to the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat it poses to people and to the economy.
Many states – Maine included – took quick and decisive action to help stop the spread of the disease and to help people upended by job loss and financial instability caused by required physical distancing.
I’m proud of Maine, for the most part, and the leadership of Gov. Janet Mills, mayors and city councils across the state. They have taken strong, sensible actions that will, I hope, save lives and livelihoods.
And then there is Idaho.
As the country was falling into the grips of COVID-19, the Idaho governor and Legislature were slow to act and then allowed the politics of grievance and bigotry to drive their behavior.
On Monday, Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed two pieces of legislation into law that specifically and illegally target transgender people for discrimination.
Instead of focusing on protecting people from a deadly disease or making sure that kids – all kids – have the supports they need during this time, Little and the Republican-dominated Legislature decided that the thing that they really needed to do was ban transgender student athletes from sports and make it impossible for transgender people to change the gender marker on their birth certificates.
Given the calamity of the times, it would be easy to miss this hateful news from a distant corner of America. But thankfully organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and The National Center for Transgender Equality, which I work with, are paying attention.
As of Tuesday morning, 415 Idahoans have tested positive for COVID-19 and seven are dead. The state’s spring high school sports season is on hold through at least April 15. Most colleges have closed or moved classes online.
There are no sports to be played in Idaho right now. And yet, the governor and the Legislature wanted to make sure that no matter what else happens – no matter the destruction and desperation that COVID-19 might rain down on people, communities and the economy – by God, transgender girls won’t be playing high school sports when things – if things – return to normal.
The first identified case of COVID-19 in Idaho was a college student, and 210 of the cases so far identified are people aged 18-49.
And yet. The focus of Little – has there ever been a governor with a more fitting name? – is on trans kids.
Lindsay Hecox is a transgender woman and runner at Boise State University. Here’s what she told me in an email: “Supporters of this bill are attempting to fix a problem that was never there. It specifically targets people like me and all transgender female athletes and denies us the opportunity to compete in sports. It’s unfair, unnecessary and discriminatory, and it ignores the commitment we’ve made to rigorous training and the importance of athletic competition to our lives.”
There are a number of states this year that have considered banning transgender student athletes from sports. But Idaho earns the distinction of being the first, which in my mind gives them claim to also being the worst.
Idaho’s actions should be condemned for the unnecessary harm they are doing to kids who just want to live their lives as who they truly are. They should be condemned for their bigotry and for propping up discrimination. And they should be condemned because they will give other states the green light to try to pass similar discriminatory laws.
Little has cemented his legacy. During a time of crisis, he targeted vulnerable young people even as his whole state suffered.
I am proud to live in Maine and call myself a Mainer. I’m proud that our state is welcoming and inclusive, and I’m proud of leaders such as Gov. Mills, Portland Mayor Kate Snyder, and Dr. Nirav Shah, head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, who are focused on keeping people safe.
During his daily press conferences about COVID-19, Shah has repeatedly delivered this message: Maine is the most welcoming place he has ever lived.
Locked down and physically distant, I’m glad to live in such a place. And sorry for the people – particularly trans kids – who live in places with the wrong priorities and politicians with ill intent.