Last summer, Idaho State University cross-country and track athlete Mary Kate Marshall learned she’d be forced to compete against a biological male in her upcoming season.

“I knew this was going to be a very difficult situation,” the rising junior told Independent Women’s Forum. “This athlete was bigger, had more muscle tone than all of the other biological females. And so, it was hard and discouraging because I knew going into the race that I wasn’t going to beat this athlete.”

Marshall was right. She and nearly all the other competitors lost to the transgender athlete, who placed second in the races.

Herself, a modest 5 feet, 5 inches tall, Marshall said the transgender athlete stood at the starting line at “6 foot plus.”

“The transgender athlete strides are twice [that of] mine, they have more muscle tone than I do…going in, I know I’m not going to win.”

Competing in the NCAA, Marshall had no choice but to try. Biological men who identify as women are now allowed to participate in the women’s Division 1 category so long as they complete one year of hormone replacement therapy. 

Recognizing the unfairness of the situation, lawmakers in Idaho passed the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which will take effect July 1. The law prohibits male-bodied athletes from participating in girls and women’s sports.

The law applies only to schools in Idaho. When Marshall competes against colleges and universities out-of-state, she’ll likely have to comply with the NCAA guidelines.

Marshall fears that with more students identifying as transgender, women’s and girl’s sports will soon be dominated by biological men. Many now face the very real prospect of losing limited roster spots, college scholarships and consequential competitions to biological males. 

Marshall says her teammates share her concern, although few want to speak out. “A lot of them don’t want to speak publicly about it because they’re afraid of what people might think or what people might do,” she said.

Mary Kate Marshall trains to compete as a Division 1 athlete at Idaho State University.

At first, Marshall was also nervous to speak out. But her family and community rallied to her support. Parents of young girls proactively thanked her for standing up for their daughters, too.  

“I really believe in what I’m doing, so I’m not scared,” she said. “If people disagree with me and they want to lash out they can, but they should know it’s not going to affect me at all because I believe in what I’m doing.”

To her critics, Marshall says, “They have to put themselves in my shoes and see that I’m a biological woman and that I’m out there training hard every day for something that I love.”

During her remaining two years in college, Marshall hopes to become one of the top runners in the Big Sky conference. In addition to training to compete, Marshall is legally fighting for the rights of female athletes in court. 

After Idaho passed the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of a male athlete seeking to challenge it. Marshall is one of two female track athletes from Idaho State University seeking to intervene. Attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom are representing her.

“The past 50 years, we’ve got to where we’re starting to be equal with biological men,” Marshall said. “Now they’re starting to come over into our sport and trying to take it over.” 

It’s ironic that, in the name of “equality,”  girls like Marshall must now compete for awards and scholarships against biological men.
“Honestly,” Marshall said of the efforts to force female athletes to compete against biological males, “it’s discriminatory against women.”