BRAINERD, Minn. — A Minnesota state senator says a student-athlete bill is intended to protect the rights and freedoms of women, not harm members of the transgender community.

The Minnesota Senate on April 22 passed this year’s education budget, which includes legislation by state Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, reserving women’s sports to people who are biologically female.

In a phone interview Tuesday, April 27, Ruud noted critics of the initiative characterize the bill as transphobic, much as similar pieces of legislation have garnered such criticism across the country. The “Save Women’s Sports” provision, however, has been framed as a protection of Title IX statute ensuring equal standing is given to female athletics as male athletics.

“I didn’t have Title IX. There were no sports for me when I was in school and so it’s really important to me that all the progress that we’ve made in the last 50 years, that we continue that for young women,” Ruud said.

“Our concern is that if we don’t stop it now, we will have men’s sports and co-ed sports,” she later added. “We need to really protect women’s sports.”

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Ruud said the legislation adds a single line to the statute codifying the distinction that athletes in women’s sports, or those who compete in the female category in an athletic event, must be biologically female. The legislation does not restrict transgender athletes from competing in athletics, she said.

“That's the difference between our bill and some of the other bills across the country. They get a little bit too carried away with having to prove to somebody on the issues of gender and having to prove this and prove that,” Ruud said. “We don’t do that. We just talk gently about Title IX.”

Pointing to ongoing debates in the international Olympics community on how athletic leagues should regulate participation in elite levels of competition — arguments that often revolve around how a person is categorized as biologically male or female, or levels of hormones like testosterone in the body — Ruud said the data is abundantly clear. Physiologically speaking, she said, allowing an athlete who is biologically male to participate in female sports is detrimental to notions of fair competition and the physical safety of female athletes.

“It’s been proven,” Ruud said. “No matter how many chemicals or hormones that you put into a biological male’s body, they are still biologically male and their physiology — their muscles, their hearts, their lung capacity, their bone density — those things really don’t change.”

However, the degree to which biological sex affects athletic performance remains a matter of debate in the scientific and medical communities. There are also numerous factors — such as whether the athlete is in the process of transitioning; whether they’re taking hormone blockers or supplemental testosterone, and the like — which further complicates the issue.

The conversation often devolves into a toxic environment of mud-slinging and name calling; Ruud said discussions of how society should address the concerns of transgender athletes and female athletes require nuance, patience and understanding.

“We just really need to have a kind and gentle conversation,” Ruud said. “We should be able to have some good, strong conversations without all the name calling that seems to accompany issues nowadays. We’re just in defense of women. I think all women should have those opportunities.”