ACLU of South Dakota: Fairness in Women’s Sports Won’t Be Achieved with New Coalition or House Bill 1217

March 22, 2021 11:30 am


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Gov. Kristi Noem’s new coalition to defend Title IX and ban transgender women and girls from competing on teams that match their gender identity does little to ensure fairness in women’s sports.

In fact, Noem’s coalition, like House Bill 1217, is simply an attempt to erase transgender people from society and violates the United States Constitution and federal civil rights laws.

“Title IX protects all students – including those who are transgender – from discrimination based on sex,” said Jett Jonelis, ACLU of South Dakota advocacy manager. “If Gov. Noem really wanted to protect fairness in women’s sports, she would tackle the actual threats to women’s sports such as severe underfunding, lack of media coverage, sexist ideologies that suggest that women and girls are weak, and pay equity for coaches. This coalition is clearly fueled by a fear and misunderstanding of transgender people.”

Last week, Noem proposed style and form recommendations to House Bill 1217. Her changes do not address the bill’s unlawful discrimination and still leave South Dakota open to litigation and economic fallout.

“It doesn’t matter what House Bill 1217 ends up looking like,” Jonelis said. “House Bill 1217 has never been about leveling the playing field for student athletes. It’s been obvious from the beginning that this discriminatory legislation is about creating problems that don’t exist and, in the process, harming some of the most vulnerable people in our state.”

Noem’s insistence that the coalition and House Bill 1217 isn’t about transgender women and girls is incorrect.

“These attacks on trans women and girls are rooted in the same kind of gender discrimination and stereotyping that has held back cisgender women athletes for centuries,” Jonelis said. “Transgender girls are often told that they are not girls based on inaccurate stereotypes about biology, athleticism and gender. Trans girls are girls – period. This is an attempt to erase transgender people from society.”

Legislation similar to House Bill 1217 has been filed across the country in recent years and has been challenged in court. In August 2020, a federal judge blocked Idaho’s law targeting transgender student athletes, recognizing that “it is not just the constitutional rights of transgender girls and women athletes at issue but … the constitutional rights of every girl and woman athlete in Idaho” and concluded that the law was based on nothing more than discrimination against transgender people.

The ACLU of South Dakota is currently weighting all options to ensure the constitutional rights of transgender women and girls in South Dakota are upheld.

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