MINOT, N.D. — We, as a society, care too much about scholastic sports. Whether it's at the K-12 or collegiate levels, athletics programs are a drain on, and distraction from, the academic missions of our educational institutions.
But I'll leave that Sisyphean argument for another column.
Let's talk about the quandary posed by transgender athletes. On one hand, it's a positive that our trans friends and neighbors are coming out of the shadows. They've lived there too long.
On the other, their emergence into the light has created some public policy issues in areas where our society organizes itself around binary genders.
Like public bathrooms. Or sports.
Gender segregation in sports is about protecting the ability of women to participate. If we didn't segregate, and women were forced to compete with men, many women wouldn't get to participate at all.
When we treat gender as a binary, this sort of segregation, implemented to empower women, specifically, is easy to accomplish.
When we recognize that gender isn't quite as binary as we've thought, things get complicated.
In Bismarck, the Legislature is attempting to address some of these complexities. House Bill 1298, introduced by Republican Rep. Ben Koppelman of West Fargo, would prohibit high school students from participating in events as anything other than their "biological sex." No publicly funded venue could host sports events for high schoolers that allow such participation.
The bill passed the state House Thursday — the vote was 65-26 — and the North Dakota Democratic-NPL, probably one of the most incompetently run state-level political parties in the country, reacted with their typically overwrought opprobrium.
"NDGOP Lawmakers Declare Transgender Children Aren’t People," screams the headline to their news release reacting to the vote:
Nobody is saying trans children aren't people. The challenge we face is how to accommodate them in our existing institutions.
This reaction from the Dem-NPL is unhelpful to the goal of finding some comity on this issue, though as anyone who has ever witnessed a "Harry Potter" book-burning knows, it's not an uncommon sort of reaction either.
Many of our friends on the left expect us to pretend as if transgenderism poses no challenges for public policy, and that if you believe otherwise you're a bigot.
This is ridiculous. There are some involved in this policy debate — including, perhaps, some of the lawmakers who voted for the bill Thursday — who are motivated by anti-trans bigotry.
Yet there are some real problems we need to solve, too. Recognizing that does not necessarily put one in league with the bigots.
What we need is to find the common ground the bigots, on one side, and hysterics, on the other, won't let us see.
I'm not sure that House Bill 1298 accomplishes that. I don't think we should ban trans students from participating in activities using the gender they identify as. What we need to do is find a way to ensure that participation is genuine, and not manipulative.
If I had a vote, I don't think I would have cast it for this bill. Its restrictions are too stark.
That said, there's nothing bigoted or hateful about having this debate, and it's a necessary one to have. There is a real problem to be solved here, even if we don't quite have the right solution yet.
Let's organize this debate around acknowledging there's a problem, and finding a way to solve it that respects the trans community while being fair to the status quo as well.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.