PIERRE, S.D. — Led by a Senate leader's rebuke of a bill as a "big-government, liberal" action, a South Dakota legislative committee voted 6-3 to send a bill critics said would effectively ban transgender children from sports to the 41st day, parlance in Pierre for defeating the measure.

Rep. Rhonda Milstead, a Hartford Republican, who appeared only days ago on a Florida stage at CPAC, tried galvanizing the wary Senate State Affairs Committee on Wednesday, March 3 to look past the objections raised over her "fairness in women's sports" bill, noting every opponent who spoke was male.

"You just had six men come up here and tell you that (women) are not worth as much as they are," said Milstead, to some jeers from the gallery.

Milstead's measure, which opponents noted is possibly unconstitutional according to federal anti-discrimination law, would limit any female sports sanctioned by a school district or association to be open "only to participants who are female, based on their biological sex."

She argued that any transgender girl who wishes to compete should perform as a boy, noting male's muscular advantages.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

"Who carries the heavy suit case into the house?" asked Milstead, rhetorically.

But her bill's undoing, said Senate Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown), was not in the language of social identities, but rather in its proviso requiring every student athlete in the state to send a document to a bureaucratic building in Pierre documenting everything from sex type to drug test results.

"I would describe (this bill) as a liberal, big government approach," said Schoenbeck, noting the measure wasn't appropriate for "a state like ours."

Sen. Helene Duhamel (R-Rapid City), the only woman on the committee, reminisced on her own high school and collegiate track career before mentioning she'd asked her daughters, two college athletes, on their thoughts regarding the bill.

"They agree with me that this (transgender girls competing in girls-only sports) impacts so few, so infrequently," said Duhamel. "Why would South Dakota lead the way when the experts are still trying to figure this out?"

Supporters for the measure, which passed the House last month, had unfolded a parade of horribles about the impacts on women's and girls' sanctioned sports if transgender students are allowed to compete in girls sports.

Penny Sattgast, of Pierre, said she couldn't "begin to imagine the complex disaster" arising if an all-female basketball team "would be forced to compete" with a team "composed of, say, three males."

"How fair is that?" asked Sattgast.

A legislator from Idaho, Rep. Barbara Ehardt, who sponsored a similar bill that was signed by Gov. Brad Little only to be blocked by a federal judge, also rose in support of HB 117 on Thursday, telling a tale about Juniper Eastwood, a transgender girl long-distance runner, who "annihilated them (competitors) in the Big Sky championship."

In 2019, Eastwood, who had run college cross-country as a male prior to transitioning to female and sitting out a year with accordance to NCAA rules, was believed to be the first trans woman to participate in Division I cross-country.

Transgender students in South Dakota who wish to participate in sex-segregated sports according to their gender identity must file a request with the South Dakota High School Activities Association. In nearly a decade, SDHSAA's executive Dan Swartos said only one transgender girl has received approval to compete.

"She competed as an average female athlete," said Swartos.

Bills threatening transgender rights have become routine in recent years, and like those before — including a bill that would've prohibited transgender children from using the bathroom of their sex identity — HB 117 met a similar fate on Wednesday, as committee members voted 6-3 to send the bill to the 41st day.

"I think our trans community needs our support," said Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert, recounting a story of two transgender children in a school he taught in. "Instead, what they continually see every year is attacks."