PIERRE, S.D. — A bill that purports to save girl's and women's sports from an influx of transgender youth received the go-ahead from the South Dakota House of Representatives on Wednesday, Feb. 24 — despite charges the measure is discriminatory and likely to be blocked by a federal judge.
A co-sponsor contextualized the measure — which segregates sports exclusively on "biological sex" and requires a written report to be filed on each student athlete attesting to their birth sex — as a fight to prevent high school athletics from returning to the "1940s," before the passage of Title IX, the hallmark sex parity legislation that opened the doors to widespread girls sports.
"We've had specific examples of shot put, track, basketball where biological males are competing and winning the awards and taking them away from female athletes," said Rep. Bethany Soye, a Sioux Falls Republican.
Other supporters of the bill bandied stories of male physical superiority, suggesting transgender girls — those often born male but who identify as female — may embarrass or even injure other girl competitors.
"If you want to see a seventh-grade boy cry, watch a girl beat them," said Rep. Charlie Hoffman, R-Eureka.
Many lawmakers acknowledged there are only few, if any, instances of transgender children competing in high school sports in South Dakota. At the House State Affairs committee hearing on Monday, the South Dakota High School Activities Association Executive Director Dan Swartos said only one child, in nearly a decade, had received approval from their group to participate in competitive sports.
But the specter of these competitors — animated by chatter of transgender shot-putters or basketball players or track runners — resonated with many lawmakers, who recounted more personal sports stories.
"Boys throughout all time, through history, have bested girls," said Rep. Fred Deutsch, R-Florence, casting his efforts as a necessary protection to preserve girls athletics that have flourished under federal nondiscrimination protection.
Similar bills have been struck down in federal court. Last year's Fairness in Women's Sports Act, signed by Idaho Gov. Brad Little, was struck down by a U.S. District Court judge after being challenged by a transgender cross-country runner.
Rep. Linda Duba, D-Sioux Falls, brandished her own support for women's athletics by discussing her children's high school and college athletic exploits. But she pivoted to discussing the rights of transgender girls who, under the bill, would not be allowed to participate in girls sports.
"We lose sight of the fact that these children want to fit in," Duba said. "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."
Rep. Ryan Cwach, D-Yankton, also questioned the bill's prime sponsor, Hartford Republican Rep. Rhonda Milstead, over the measure's apparent trigger mechanism that would require all high school athletes to submit written reports to the state documenting their sex.
"I'm not going to ask you to change how you feel about sex in society," Cwach said. "But I am asking you to read the bill."
He suggested the bill would require a paper glut and clearinghouse for "genital" information at a state building in Pierre.
The measure passed 50-17 in the Republican super-majority chamber. Ten Republicans joined seven of the chamber's eight Democrats (Rep. Oren Lesmeister was excused) in opposing the measure.
After the passage, the Trevor Project, a California-based suicide prevention organization, issued a statement condemning the bill, saying it'd be an "unfair and unnecessary policy" to the state's youth.
The bill now proceeds to the state Senate.
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