“Anti-trans” bills are about elections, not protecting kids, activists say

Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 9:47 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Racist, transphobic, dehumanizing, harmful, and hurtful.

Those were words transgender rights advocates used Wednesday in a locally-organized webinar to describe the “terrorism” remark made by Gov. Kristi Noem’s Chief of Staff Mark Miller. He made those remarks Wednesday while testifying in favor of SB 84, “The Fairness in Women’s Sports Bill,” before house committee passed it along party lines, 11-2.

“By putting it in law, we are ensuring that what we’re seeing all over the country does not happen in South Dakota,” Miller said. “It’s sort of like terrorism. You want to keep it over there, not let it get to here.”

It is a remark that would seem to fall under what one webinar panelist called the “hate machine” of nationally-funded anti-transgender bills sweeping conservative states like South Dakota, with political gain - not protecting non-transgender kids - as the motive.

That premise was the launching point for the webinar, titled “The Rise of Anti-Legislation: Where it Came From and How to Stop It.”

The panel was made of researchers familiar with similar transgender sports bills in other states, and their studies found that the bills are all worded similarly and in some cases identically, which is not a coincidence.

These are not homegrown measures drafted from scratch by concerned state legislators, panelists said. The national narrative is made obvious when coalitions like the Alliance Defending Freedom publicly celebrate these bills’ passages, said panelist Heron Greenesmith, the senior research analyst for Political Research Associates.

“The idea of banning trans people from sports, from preventing trans people from using the bathroom, and from trans people accessing remedies from discrimination is a top-down decision,” Greenesmith said.

“We don’t need to look for the connections,” Greenesmith said. “They are excited when a state passes a bill that prevents trans people from accessing justice and a healthy and safe life.”

One tell of how each state bill rejecting trans women from competing with and against cis females is the fact that only one case of this actually happening that is consistently referred: A case in Connecticut that was dismissed by a federal judge.

“They can’t point to any other situations where trans people may have dominated over people,” said Vivian Topping, the director of advocacy for the Equality Federation.

So, what would be the political gain for the coalitions that push the bills and the legislators who pass them?

“This is a method that far right conservatives have decided ‘this is a wedge issue we’re going to use to win in the elections,’” Topping said.

Topping cited the remarks of one of those coalition leaders in 2020, when in a Politico article,

Topping also cited a Massachusetts statewide ballot from 2018, which, like similar bills in South Dakota, tried to keep transgenders out of bathrooms occupied by people genders they identify with, not what their birth certificate said.

The ballot was voted down “overwhelmingly,” and with that, these coalitions turned to similar legislation of sports participation to continue to rally around transgender discrimination.

“Shortly after, our opposition released an article saying, ‘Well, we lost in the bathroom argument. The bathroom argument is not working anymore, so we got to go somewhere else,” Topping said.

“This is the somewhere else.”

And it has taken now shape in South Dakota.

Topping was asked if more legislators in South Dakota would be persuaded to vote against bills like SB 46 if they actually knew and listened to transgender people and their reasoning why they should play sports in the gender they identify. She said probably not.

“What we’ve seen in some states is that trans people get used as a bargaining chip,” Topping said. “So, if they’ve decided this bill is a bill that they need to get something else, it’s going to go through. That can seem like a hopeless situation, but I have to remind folks that this is the long game. These legislators have been hearing from trans people. They need to keep hearing from trans people.

“We need to make it hard for them. We need to make sure that if they are going to talk about trans people, they’re going to have trans people talk back.”

She says in states where trans people are out from telling their stories publicly and authentically, trans rights eventually win over the masses and the lawmakers.

“What a lot of these athlete bans, these transgender bills, are about is folks who are uncomfortable about transitioning as a child, who don’t understand what it means to be trans as a kid, who don’t understand what it actually looks like,” Topping said.

Greenesmith calls the concept of protecting female athletes from trans-female athletes in competition for roster spots, in physical competition, or in locker rooms, “a violent solution without a problem.”

Only one trans girl has participated in the state since the South Dakota High School Activities Association policy was enacted in 2013. One trans boy applied, but their application was denied.

A legal panelist on the webinar said he is confident that, if passed, these “transgender sports bills,” including the “locker room bill,” will be struck down in federal court, which is what happened in Idaho, the first of 10 similar bills passed by Republican-led legislatures.

A conservative federal judge appointed by President Trump saw “no justification in this ban,” cited Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. He added that 22 states have protections for transgender people in their laws, starting with Minnesota in 1985. About 15 state high school athletic associations protect transgender rights.

“It’s been an enormously compressed legal revolution,” Minter said. “The legal framework is pretty darn positive. That’s why these terrible state bans are so out of wack with how the public feels about the rules on these issues, and also out of wack with what the law is, which is why we see them struck down.”

Minter commended all the young transgender athletes who have spoken before other state legislators, and said the silver lining in this national push to discriminate against transgender people is that it has forced a conversation to happen that, in the long run, will bring them equality and understanding within the next five years.

“Is there a person in this country now who is not aware that there are transgender kids,” Minter asked. “And was that true even a few years ago. No, so this, as painful as it can be, it is also an incredible opportunity, and every single one of us, all these kids’ families involved in this struggle, are doing something that is going to make a permanent, lasting, positive change for our country.”

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