It's bad enough that a third of South Dakota's legislators are supporting House Bill 1220, the Legislature's latest assault on LGBT South Dakotans' civil rights. Conservative legislators are taking an extra swing at the T, transgender South Dakotans, by floating not just one but two bills attacking the South Dakota High School Activities Association's new transgender policy.

Last year, the SDHSAA followed several other states in adopting a transgender policy for high school sports (note: this issue doesn't come up in one-act play, debate, band, chorus, etc., where we let everyone play together regardless of gender identity). Rocko McMuscles can't just put on a skirt, shout in falsetto, "I'm a girl!" and go win the girls state shot put championship. The SDHSAA transgender policy establishes a clear and not terribly easy procedure by which a student-athlete can declare a gender identity contrary to her/his birth certificate or school registration papers and participate on the sports teams of that chosen gender:

  1. The student (or parents) give notice to the school.
  2. The school collects information, including documentation from family, friends, teachers, and at least one health care professional, on the student's gender identity.
  3. The school notifies the SDHSAA.
  4. The SDHSAA Gender Identification Eligibility Committee, made up of at least one doctor, one mental health professional, and one advocate familiar with transgender issues, reviews the application and decides within two weeks.
  5. Applicant students can appeal unfavorable decisions to the SDHSAA Board of Directors.

This policy is not exactly a fling-the-door-wide, do-whatever-you-want approach. The SDHSAA is making transgender students clear a pretty high bar before they can join the track team. And the policy is not universal: in November 2014, SDHSAA created a religious exemption for private schools, who simply have to write one measly letter each year saying, "Trans? God says ain't no such thing!"

But that's not good enough for our micromanaging legislators. A whole herd of Republicans propose House Bill 1161, which adds one sentence to statute governing the SDHSAA:

However, the association may not establish policy relating to sexuality or gender identity, other than the basic distinction between the male and female high school activities.

That language would put the Legislature in charge of setting transgender policy for high school activities.

House Bill 1195 sets just such policy, not only voiding the SDHSAA transgender policy, but decreeing that sexual identity shall be determined solely by birth certificate or, in the absence of that document, the determination of the health care professional conducting the student's SDHSAA physical.

Both bills have been referred to House State Affairs, though a date for hearing has not yet been set. I have a feeling that hearing will be uncomfortable.

Looking at another short-sighted, discriminatory bill, I said that calling a corporation a person is absurd, because we shouldn't call things that aren't people people. I suppose backers of HB 1161 and HB 1195 could try some verbal judo and say we shouldn't call boys girls and vice versa. But we're learning that gender is more complicated than that, and the Legislature is demonstrating that it's not intelligent or compassionate enough to recognize that fact.

The SDHSAA spends all year working with schools, coaches, and students to provide everyone with a fair, competitive, and enjoyable sports experience. The SDHSAA has come up with a clear, deliberative process to deal with a sensitive and complicated issue; let's not let our legislators muck it up with their misconceptions and mean-spiritedness.

Related Reading: Minnesota actually followed South Dakota's lead on this issue. Their activities association just passed a transgender policy in December. The first woman to play on a boys' sports team, way back in the 1970s, says folks should chill out: transgender players aren't going to ruin anyone's sports experience.