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Senators dismiss ban on transgender girls from girls’ sports

March 3, 2021 GMT

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota Senate committee on Wednesday dismissed a proposal to bar transgender women and girls from participating in women’s sports leagues.

The bill had passed the House, with some Republican lawmakers casting the ban as a way to protect equal opportunities for women in sports. But there are currently no transgender athletes participating in female high school sports, according to the high school activities association. A Senate committee agreed with the high school activities association’s argument that its current policy of evaluating applications from transgender athletes on a case-by-case basis is working, and that the legal and financial consequences of passing such a ban were unnecessary.

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Opponents argued that passage of the bill would bring up a broad range of problems for the state — from the NCAA potentially shying away from hosting tournaments, to legal challenges for discrimination and the administrative burden of collecting proof of every high school athlete’s sex at birth.

“This is a bad piece of legislation,” said Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, one of the most powerful Republicans in the senate. “At least for a conservative that believes in less government, helping families with jobs and less paperwork.”

Legislators in more than 20 states have introduced similar bills this year. Yet in almost every case, sponsors cannot cite a single instance in their own state or region where such participation has caused problems. Rep. Rhonda Milstead, the Republican who introduced the bill in South Dakota, asserted that she had heard from parents saying that transgender girls are currently competing in girls’ sports leagues. The high school activities association has said that is simply not the case.

Dan Swartos, the executive director of the activities association, said one transgender girl, who has now graduated, participated in girls’ sports leagues without causing problems for other athletes.

But Milstead argued the bill would have far-reaching consequences, hearkening back to women’s fight for equal opportunities in school sports.

“There’s not anyone in this room that can deny males have a competitive advantage over females,” she said.

There’s no authoritative count of how many trans athletes have competed recently in high school or college sports. Transgender adults make up a small portion of the U.S. population, about 1.3 million as of 2016, according to the Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law that specializes in research on LGBTQ issues.

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But the two dozen bills making their way through state legislatures this year could be devastating for transgender teens who usually get little attention as they compete.

The South Dakota Legislature has perenially taken up bills decried as discriminatory of transgender people. While those bills have found traction in the House, the Senate has become adept at dismissing them.

“Our trans community needs our support instead of seeing attacks every year,” said Senate Democratic leader Troy Heinert.

The bill to ban transgender girls from girls’ sports could be revived in the Senate by a legislative maneuver supported by one-third of senators.