June July 2016
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Minnesota Republicans Seek to End Trans-Inclusive Sports Teams

Minnesota Republicans Seek to End Trans-Inclusive Sports Teams

Republicans have introduced legislation in the Minnesota state House and Senate that aims to invalidate a policy enacted by the statewide school athletic organization last year, allowing transgender students to play on the sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. 

A total of 25 Republican legislators introduced three bills in the House and Senate this week seeking to establish the Student Safety and Physical Privacy Act, which purports to "protect and provide for the privacy and safety of all students enrolled in public schools and to maintain order and dignity in restrooms, locker rooms, changing rooms, showers, and other facilities where students may be in various states of undress in the presence of other students."

To accomplish this goal, the legislation — introduced in the state Senate as SF 1543 and in the Republican-controlled House as HF 1546 and HF 1547 — proclaims that any restroom, locker room, or changing or shower facility inside a public school "designated for the exclusive use of one sex shall be used only by members of that sex." The legislation defines "sex" as "the physical condition of being male or female, which is determined by a person's chromosomes and is identified at birth by a person's anatomy." 

The Senate bill, which was introduced first, specifically targets a trans-inclusive policy adopted by the Minnesota State High School League last December, which allows transgender students to participate in single-sex activities and use the restrooms, locker rooms, and showers that accord with their affirmed gender. After months of heated public debate, the MSHSL policy passed in December almost unanimously, with 18 members of the league's board voting in favor, one opposed, and one abstaining. 

The legislation introduced Monday by Sens. David Brown, Mary Kiffmeyer, Carrie Ruud, Dave Thompson, and Torrey Westrom explicitly targets the MSHSL's trans-inclusive policy by name, ordering the league to "review and conform league rules, guidelines, procedures, and eligibility bylaws to be consistent with" the proposed law, effectively ordering the league to rescind its trans-inclusive policy. 

In an interesting twist, the legislation is focused solely on trans girls playing on girls' sports teams, as state law currently allows self-identified girls to play on boys' teams. Therefore, the Minnesota bill is directly focused on trans women, alluding to the false claim that trans women present some sort of "threat" to cisgender (nontrans) women and children. "Female teams; male participation," reads subheading 2 in the Senate bill. "When an elementary or secondary school establishes a team for students of the female sex, students of the male sex may not try out for or participate on that team." 

The language harkens back to transphobic scare tactics employed last year by the ultraconservative Minnesota Child Protection League, arguably the most vocal opponent of the MSHSL's trans-inclusive policy. Before the league approved its new policy, the Child Protection League ran a full-page ad in the Minneapolis Star Tribune last September claiming the policy would allow for "A male [who] wants to shower beside your 14-year-old daughter. Are you OK with that?" 

Notably, the Child Protection League promoted the legislation's introduction on its Facebook page this week, quoting Sen. Brown's so-called explanation of why the bills are needed. 

"If you identify as a male and you're in a locker room and you're undressing and you're the only female body in there, you think you're not going to have some fallback from that?" Brown said, according to CPL Action's Facebook post Tuesday. "Or vice versa, you're the only one with a male body in an all-female locker room. I think it's only going to enhance their problems."

Brown's comments, along with similar remarks made by authors of the House legislation to the Star Tribune, indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of gender identity and the very real risk of harassment trans and gender-nonconforming students face in bathrooms, locker rooms, and at school in general. 

In reality, trans people are at higher risk of facing harassment or violence in public bathrooms than nontrans individuals, while a staggering 59 percent of trans students report being barred from using the school facilities that correspond with their gender identity, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality

As NCTE has pointed out, restricting trans students to bathrooms based on "biological sex" puts such youth at risk for increased harassment and stigmatization. Providing a faculty or single-stall bathroom as an alternative singles trans students out and over time may increase a trans student's likelihood of disengaging from school or dropping out altogether, notes the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.

With such evidence mounting, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has increasingly found that refusing trans students access to their gender's facilities is an instance of "sex discrimination." In December the DOE announced that gender identity is protected under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

And while hundreds of trans-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances have been in force in cities around the country for several decades, there has never been a verifiable, reported instance of a trans person harassing a cisgender person, nor have there been any confirmed reports of male predators "pretending" to be transgender to gain access to women's spaces and commit crimes against them.

Similar legislation targeting trans-affirming policies in public schools have been introduced in Kentucky and Texas — the latter state's legislation would award a cisgender student $2,000 every time they provedthey had shared a facility with a trans student. That bill also provides for additional unspecified "damages" as a result of "mental anguish" experienced by the cisgender student. 

Although the antitrans legislation faces an uphill battle in Minnesota's Democrat-controlled Senate, out Sen. Scott Dibble said the message these bills send is unmistakably damaging. 

"I'm not concerned whether it will move and pass, because I don't think it's going to," Sen. Dibble, a Democrat, told the Star Tribune. "But what concerns me is you've got a bill like this introduced by officials with the state of Minnesota, responsible adults, and it sends a highly negative message. It fans the flames of hysteria and gives young transgender people and their families a negative message of who they are. That's a really big problem."

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