PIERRE, SD: The South Dakota Legislative Committee on Friday approved a bill championed by Governor Christy Noim to ban transgender women and girls from participating in school sports leagues that match their gender identities.
With full Republican governor lobbying, the bill received enthusiastic approval in the Republican-dominated Senate State Affairs Committee, clearing a legal hurdle that has been a major hurdle for similar South Dakota bills in the past. It was the first bill the committee passed this year as lawmakers seek to speed it up through the State House.
Despite warnings from rivals that each Republican on the committee approved the bill, it alienates and threatens transgender students and exposes public schools to legal action for political reasons that is not an issue in South Dakota. Proponents say it protects girls’ sport from trans athletes who can be bigger, faster and stronger than their peers.
As a parent, I don’t care if she becomes an elite athlete, but I wish she had the experience of being on the team, said her transgender daughter Jennifer Fallen who wants to participate in school gymnastics.
She told the committee in an emotional testimony that the passage of the bill would directly harm children. It will directly harm my daughter and deprive her of her freedom to participate in activities with her peers.
If the bill passes the legislature, South Dakota could become the 10th Republican-dominated state to adopt such a ban on transgender women or girls. Two of those states have been overturned by federal judges in Idaho and West Virginia. The U.S. Department of Justice has challenged sanctions in other states, condemning them as violations of federal law.
But lawmakers have used the Pennsylvania case of a 22-year-old transgender woman who has dominated swimming for the University of Pennsylvania as evidence that trans athletes have an unfair advantage over their competition.
Allowing men to compete destroys fair competition and athletic opportunities for girls, “Rachel Oglesby, the governor’s policy adviser, told the committee.
The High School Activity Association insists it already has a policy that ensures fair competition. Schools evaluate the applications of transgender athletes on a case-by-case basis and only allow trans girls to play in the girls’ league once. She did not spoil the competition, the Athletics Association said.
Groups representing public schools said politicians were forcing them to choose between violating state law or federal policy. Associated school boards warned that schools could lose federal funds if an investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found schools violated students’ rights.
Diana Miller, representing one of South Dakota’s largest school districts, said this particular bill does nothing to help young people. It is discriminatory, unjust and not necessary.
Acknowledging that schools were being put at legal risk, the governor’s office amended the bill to state that the state would provide legal representation and pay for any lawsuits. The governor’s chief of staff, Mark Miller, insisted that the proposed law complies with the constitution, that other states have successfully implemented the law, and that the state will win in court if the case is prosecuted.
Noime refrained from signing the same bill last year, issuing a style and form veto, arguing that it was flawed because it put the state at risk of litigation and retaliation from the NCAA.
But this year, she picked up the pace among Republicans and trumpeted her support for defending fairness in women’s sports “as she seeks to rehabilitate her position with social conservatives.”
Noime launched a campaign announcement this week claiming she had never backed down on the issue. And if there was any doubt that her political ambitions are outside the state of South Dakota where she is running for re-election and where the proposed law will be implemented the announcement is running on channels across the country.
This left critics calling the bill nothing more than propaganda.
“This is not a problem that is really happening in South Dakota,” said Roger Tailinghuisen, representing the Human Rights Campaign, an organization advocating for LGBTQ people. It is just a political statement.
On this issue, Noime Warming demonstrates the growing dominance of social conservatives in the GOP and their ability to harden politicians to support discriminatory laws against LGBTQ people.
John Schweep, a social conservative group, policy director of the American Principles Project, praised Noim’s bill after condemning her for effectively hitting the law last year.
To see her come out with a stronger bill now, to see her make this issue a champion and to make it her priority, we haven’t really seen anything like this with Republicans, “he said.” I think that’s an important moment. “