Bill would void South Dakota transgender athletes policy

Published: Jan. 14, 2019 at 1:44 PM CST
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South Dakota lawmakers are set to debate a bill that would void an activities association policy allowing transgender students to request to play on the athletic team that matches their gender identity.

The legislation introduced Monday would require a student's sex be determined by their birth certificate or a South Dakota High School Activities Association physical exam form.

Republican Sen. Jim Bolin, the sponsor, says the legislation is "all about fair competition."

ACLU of South Dakota policy director Libby Skarin says the measure is another attempt to "single transgender students out for discrimination" in South Dakota.

Association Executive Director Dan Swartos says the group is reviewing the measure and will defend its current policy.

The bill would declare the 2015 policy void; similar bills failed in the 2015 and 2016 sessions.

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ACLU of South Dakota opposes Senate Bill 49

ACLU of South Dakota issued the following press release regarding Sentate Bill 49 on Monday:

The ACLU of South Dakota opposes Senate Bill 49, a bill that would declare void the procedure adopted by the South Dakota High School Activities Association to ensure that transgender student athletes can participate in high school sports and would instead restrict participation in athletic activities to the gender listed on a person’s birth certificate.

Currently, transgender high school students wishing to compete in high school activities may do so, provided they follow the policy articulated by the South Dakota High School Activities Association. Senate Bill 49 would eliminate this policy and the oversight of the SDHSAA, preventing transgender students from participating in athletics simply because of who they are. The bill is another effort to codify discrimination against transgender youth under state law and undermine the authority of the SDHSAA to ensure equitable and fair participation in high school activities.

The following statement can be attributed to Libby Skarin, policy director of the ACLU of South Dakota:

“This is yet another attempt to single transgender students out for discrimination in our state. And like the many bathroom bills before it, this bill would hurt transgender students, violate federal law and expose our state to legal liability. The policy that this bill seeks to undo has been in place since 2015 without any problems.  All that existing policy does is allow fair and equitable participation in high school activities by all South Dakota high school students. But this bill, like its predecessor bills, seeks to erode that fairness and is just a solution in search of a problem.

“Barring transgender students from the benefits of athletics holds them back from living authentic and fulfilling lives. Participation in athletic activities has a widespread positive impact on the social, physical and emotional well-being of students and provides kids with lessons about self-discipline, teamwork, perseverance, success and failure. They bring excitement, joy and a sense of belonging – a sense that is important for all kids, but particularly vital for kids who may already feel like outcasts.

“All young people should have the opportunity to play high school sports and have their personal dignity respected. Transgender students are no different. No one is harmed by allowing transgender people to compete consistent with who they are.”

The SDHSAA policy now in place puts South Dakota in line with at least two dozen other states with inclusive policies for transgender students at some or all high schools, including Minnesota, Colorado and Wyoming. If Senate Bill 49 passes, South Dakota would be the first and only state in which the state legislature intervened to override a policy put in place by the association that knows high school activities the best. 

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