Rights groups, athletes ask NCAA to move tourney from Idaho

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FILE - In this May 24, 2019, file photo, Megan Rapinoe, a member of the United States women's national soccer team, speaks to reporters during a news conference in New York. Groups that advocate for civil rights and womens rights have joined notable athletes in asking the NCAA to move the first and second rounds of the 2021 mens basketball tournament out of Idaho after the state passed a law banning transgender women from competing in womens sports. A letter sent and signed by a list of professional athletes including Megan Rapinoe, Billie Jean King, Jason Collins and Sue Bird calls for the NCAA to move the games set to be held March 2021 at Boise State University. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

BOISE, Idaho – Groups that advocate for civil rights and women’s rights have joined notable athletes in asking the NCAA to move 2021 men’s basketball tournament games out of Idaho after the state passed a law banning transgender women from competing in women’s sports.

A letter sent Wednesday and signed by athletes including Megan Rapinoe, Billie Jean King, Jason Collins and Sue Bird calls for the NCAA to take all championship events out of Idaho. The first and second rounds of the men's tournament are scheduled for next March at Boise State University.

The NCAA issued a statement opposing the Idaho law and had previously banned events in North Carolina in 2016 after passage of a law there that excluded gender identity and sexual orientation from statewide anti-discrimination protections. The North Carolina law also required transgender people to use restrooms in schools and state government buildings that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate.

The North Carolina law was repealed a year later and the NCAA lifted its ban on events in the state.

“Transgender athletes deserve the same dignity and respect entitled to all NCAA athletes. Because of HB 500, that simply isn’t possible in Idaho,” said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director for policy and action with the National Center for Transgender Equality. “We applaud the NCAA for speaking out against HB 500 and now encourage them to back up their words with action.”

In March, Republican Gov. Brad Little signed the Idaho measure that received overwhelming support in the Republican-dominated House and Senate, but no support from Democrats.

The ban applies to all sports teams sponsored by public schools, colleges and universities. A girls’ or women’s team will not be open to transgender students who identify as female.

Backers said the law, called the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, is needed because transgender female athletes have physical advantages.