Bill would void South Dakota transgender athletes policy

By : wire report
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PIERRE, S.D. (AP) | South Dakota lawmakers are set to debate a bill this session that would void an activities association policy allowing transgender students to request to play on the athletic team that matches their gender identity.

The legislation introduced Jan. 14 would require a student’s sex to be determined by their birth certificate or a South Dakota High School Activities Association physical exam form. It means years of legislative debates over transgender students in South Dakota will continue during the 2019 session.

Republican Sen. Jim Bolin, the bill’s main sponsor, said the legislation is “all about fair competition” and is patterned after rules in Texas.

“I just firmly believe that those who are males should play in sports designated for males and those who are females … should play in sports designated for females, according to your birth certificate,” Bolin said. “It’s about fair competition, and we’re not breaking any new ground.”

Libby Skarin, policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, said in a statement that the measure is another attempt to “single transgender students out for discrimination” in South Dakota.

“All young people should have the opportunity to play high school sports and have their personal dignity respected,” Skarin said. “Transgender students are no different. No one is harmed by allowing transgender people to compete consistent with who they are.”

Association Executive Director Dan Swartos said the group is reviewing the measure. He said the association will defend its current policy and address any potential issues it sees resulting from the bill with the sponsors and the committee to which it gets assigned.

A “small number” of students are currently competing with approved waivers for transgender student participation, Swartos said, declining to disclose the exact number for fear of violating their privacy.

The association’s 2015 policy requires a student and parent to notify their school that the student wants to play on the sports team that matches their gender identity.

The school submits an application and documentation to the association for review by an independent hearing officer who must be a licensed attorney and a member of the State Bar of South Dakota. The student or the student’s school can appeal the hearing officer’s decision to the association’s board of directors for a final decision.

Similar bills to void the policy failed in the 2015 and 2016 sessions. Bolin sought to differentiate his proposal from legislation former Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed in 2016 that would have restricted which bathrooms transgender students could use at school. That debate spurred national headlines.

“This has nothing to do with bathrooms, locker rooms or shower rooms,” Bolin said. “This has only to do with the eligibility for athletic competition.”

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