This guest column was submitted by Charley Johnson, president and CO, Fargo Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau; Julie Rygg, executive director, Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau; Sephanie Schoenrock, executive director, Visit Minot; and Searle Swedlund, executive director, Discover Jamestown.
A conference committee of the North Dakota House and Senate will soon take up the differences between two versions of House Bill 1298, which deals with transgender athletes under the age of 18. While we would prefer to see the bill defeated for reasons listed below, as an alternative we hope the conference committee will adopt the Senate version, which would send this issue to an interim committee for two years of comprehensive study.
As leaders of organizations responsible for welcoming youth and adult sporting activities to the Fargo, Grand Forks, Minot and Jamestown MSAs, we oppose this measure for two reasons. First, it is completely unnecessary. The governing and sanctioning bodies of virtually every sport in the world have studied this issue for decades, consulted with experts, and come up with nuanced policies based on what they’ve learned. That includes the North Dakota High School Activities Association, which patterns its policy on that of the NCAA.
Second, even if the final amended version does not specifically put most of the state’s youth sports groups out of step with their more inclusive sanctioning bodies, it is still likely to gain those groups’ attention. If that happens, it could discourage them from sponsoring or participating in tournaments in North Dakota and have a significant negative impact on business generated by the people who ordinarily travel for those tournaments. And in another unintended consequence, those developments would also reduce the amount and level of competition to which young North Dakota athletes would be exposed.
In our communities, 2020 hotel room revenue was down between 34% and 40%. The modest recovery we’ve experienced since last summer is largely due to the return of youth sports. In the pre-pandemic year of 2019, just the FMWF and GGF CVBs assisted with events that led to direct visitor spending of more than $17 million. USA Wrestling has been bringing a 10-day tournament to the Fargodome for more than 25 years. That group’s transgender policy closely mirrors that of the International Olympic Committee. If passage of this measure caused the loss of only that event, that direct spending figure would shrink by almost $2 million. In Grand Forks, departure of just Junior Grand Am Basketball would result in similar losses. Minot is currently prepping for the ACHA Women’s Division 1 national hockey tournament. An event like that could be affected as well if college sanctioning bodies decide to take a stand against non-inclusive policies.
After a year in which the travel, tourism and hospitality economy in North Dakota shrunk by $1.2 billion dollars, the last thing we need is a new and unnecessary law that throws fresh roadblocks in the way of attracting sports tourism to our communities. Please join us in asking your lawmakers to stop this bill from becoming law.