South Dakota House Committee Votes to Advance Discriminatory Bill to Prevent Transgender Females from Competing in Sports

February 22, 2021 8:30 pm

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ACLU of South Dakota
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Today, in an 11-2 vote, the House State Affairs Committee voted to advance House Bill 1217, legislation that would ban transgender women and girls from competing on the sports teams that match their gender identity.

The ACLU of South Dakota opposes House Bill 1217. By singling out transgender women and girls and enacting a sweeping ban on participation in athletics, House Bill 1217 violates both the United States Constitution and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act.

Currently, transgender athletes wishing to compete on school-sponsored teams may do so. The South Dakota High School Activities Association already has a policy in place for transgender athletes. Likewise, the NCAA also has clear policies on the inclusion of transgender student-athletes and their participation in intercollegiate athletics. House Bill 1217 would undermine the oversight and authority of these governing boards that know high school and collegiate activities best.

“Title IX protects all students – including students who are transgender – from discrimination based on sex,” said Jett Jonelis, ACLU of South Dakota advocacy manager. “House Bill 1217 is clearly fueled by a fear and misunderstanding of transgender people in our state. In South Dakota and around the country, transgender people of all ages have been participating in sports consistent with their gender identity for years. Inclusive teams support all athletes and encourage participation should be the standard for all school sports.”

Legislation similar to House Bill 1217 has been filed across the country in recent years and has been challenged in court. In 2020, a federal judge blocked a similar law in Idaho that targeted transgender student athletes, recognizing that “the Constitution must always prevail.” By granting the motion for a preliminary injunction in that case, transgender girls and women continue to be able to participate in school sports in Idaho.

This is the seventh attempt by South Dakota lawmakers to prevent transgender athletes from competing. After the SDHSAA enacted its inclusive transgender sports policy, lawmakers tried to meddle with the association’s authority, first with House Bill 1161 in 2015 and then with House Bill 1111 in 2016. Four additional bills – House Bill 1195 in 2015, House Bill 1112 in 2016 and Senate Bill 49 and House Bill 1225 in 2019 – would have restricted participation in high school athletic activities to the gender listed on a person’s birth certificate. All bills were killed.

“Discrimination against a marginalized group of people like this is a distraction from the needs of the state and hurts us all,” Jonelis said. “It’s time we stop these attacks and the very real harm they cause to transgender people across South Dakota.”

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