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South Dakota House Advances Dangerous Anti-Trans Sports Bill

South Dakota Capitol
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The bill, which now goes to the state Senate, would prevent trans girls and women from competing on female teams.

The South Dakota House of Representatives Wednesday approved a bill that would prevent transgender girls and women from competing with cisgender females in public school and college sports.

Representatives passed House Bill 1217 by a vote of 50-17 and sent it on to the state Senate, the Grand Forks Herald reports. The House has a Republican supermajority, and 10 Republicans joined seven of its eight Democratic members in opposing the bill; one Democrat was excused from the vote.

The bill mandates that school sports teams be classified as male, female, or coeducational -- which is usually the case -- but says participation on female teams must be based on an athlete's "biological sex, as ascertained at or before birth in accordance with the student's genetics and reproductive biology." That excludes trans girls and women.

Supporters of the measure "bandied stories of male physical superiority" and said that admitting trans girls and women to female teams would end the progress women have made in sports, the Herald reports. That's an argument being made in several states and at the federal level now, even though advocates for trans inclusion point out that many factors besides birth sex contribute to athletic performance.

Trans people also make up a small percentage of student athletes. At a House committee meeting Monday, South Dakota High School Activities Association Executive Director Dan Swartos said that over the past decade, the group had approved only one trans youth to compete in interscholastic sports.

"But the specter of these competitors -- animated by chatter of transgender shot-putters or basketball players or track runners -- resonated with many lawmakers," according to the Herald.

Opponents of the bill pointed out that it would further marginalize trans young people and possibly lead to a bureaucratic nightmare.

"We lose sight of the fact that these children want to fit in," Democratic Rep. Linda Duba said of trans youth. "If they wanted to be in choir, would we be concerned about that? We are focusing on one, tiny, small aspect of their high school years, and it's hard enough."

Another Democrat, Rep. Ryan Cwach, said the bill would mean student athletes would have to submit documentation of their gender. "He suggested the bill would require a paper glut and clearinghouse for 'genital' information at a state building in Pierre," the Herald notes.

Similar bills are advancing in North Dakota, Montana, Mississippi, and Utah, although Utah's Republican governor, Spencer Cox, has publicly voiced concern about such legislation's effect on trans youth. The only state where a bill like this has become law is Idaho, and it's been blocked by a federal judge while a court case against it proceeds.

LGBTQ+ rights groups denounced the South Dakota measure. "This unfair and unnecessary policy would be incredibly harmful to the mental health and well-being of transgender and nonbinary youth in South Dakota, who deserve access to the same opportunities and character-building activities as their peers," Sam Brinton, vice president of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, said in a press release. "The Trevor Project urges the South Dakota Senate to reject this bill and to focus instead on expanding access to affirming spaces and support systems for trans youth, which we know work to save young lives from suicide."

Before the vote, the Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, and trans rights advocates held a virtual press conference to speak out against the sports bill and another one the legislature is considering, which would block gender-affirming medical care for minors. Bills like these in South Dakota and other states are "senseless" and are being pushed by national anti-LGBTQ+ groups such as the Heritage Foundation, Alliance Defending Freedom, and Eagle Forum rather than "being driven by legislators or constituent concerns," an HRC press release states.

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