There goes P&R Miscellany again, riding his Tolerance sled down his slippery slope. As he did last year when South Dakotans rejected anti-gay legislation, P&R contends that opposition to legislative efforts to repeal the SDHSAA's transgender athlete policy (HB 1161 and 1195 come before Senate Education this morning) is but the thin edge of the wedge the intolerant gay lobby will use to force things down Christians' throats:

We are fast coming to a time in this country, largely because of the offensive intolerance of the homosexual rights community, when it will be both illegal and a "hate crime" to hold to biblical morality on questions of sexuality and marriage. There is a concerted effort to demand the church cave to the immorality, vulgarity, and yes, hate of our present age. The church's schools, both Protestant and Catholic, will be the first major target.

It will start, as it is in South Dakota, with obscene regulations as a condition for participation in sports leagues. It will seem a small thing to many parents for whom athletics are the dominant purpose of a school. Once the schools give on this, though, they will find it harder to gin up the necessary will to resist further incursions and, as they will have already given some ground, the law will not support them when they try to say some other point is a line they cannot cross. Yes, presently the proposed regulation in South Dakota makes an exemption for religious schools—added only after protests. How long will that last? The "exemption" addition itself almost invites lawsuits against religious schools on this issue and the courts have indicated a rather glaring weakness in this area of religious liberty. Before it even gets to that point, we must ask what these regulations will mean when a Christian school hosts a visiting "girls" volleyball team that includes a young man who cannot deal with biological reality? What good will this "exemption" do them then? What will the Christian school do when a couple guys start making out in the stands?

Teenagers making out at basketball games! Dogs and cats living together—mass hysteria!

Accommodate transgender students in high school sports, and boys will start making out with each other? The logic escapes me, as does the challenge for crowd control. If two young people start necking in the stands, the coach or the principal or the janitor breaks them up and says such intimate physical contact is inappropriate. That simple discipline works regardless of who's kissing whom and whether they are flaunting their hormonality at Central or Roncalli.

P&R's logic remains elusive in the slippery-slope argument. He cites the willingness of the high school activities association to make an exception to its transgender policy for religious institutions as a sign that the unnamed gay lobby will get rid of exceptions for religious institutions. The status quo demonstrates its responsiveness to religious concerns, but P&R dismisses that tolerance by crying, "How long will that last?" I suspect it will last as long as the First Amendment lasts (which may not be long, since P&R's conservative compatriots in Pierre have called for an Article V Convention that increases the opportunity for the "gay lobby" and other special interests to rewrite the Constitution in ways P&R and I both might find objectionable).

Not escaping me is the high insult the often otherwise civil P&R heaps on transgender students. Young people whose brains and bodies disagree on their gender are "obscene" and "cannot deal with biological reality." P&R shouts these insults as he calls his fellow Christians to "resist" rather than "cower," but he sounds like he is rallying his discomfited majority to bully a very small minority of vulnerable youth who would just like to play basketball. Are these kids really such an abomination in the Lord's eyes that they deserve such treatment?

I hope Senate Education will eschew both insult and slippery slope this morning and shut down the bills blocking the SDHSAA's respectful and realistic transgender policy.

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I tell people that I have a girl brain, a boy body.

—Jazz Jennings, I Am Jazz, 2012

Two bills attacking transgender student-athletes are enjoying more success than they should in the South Dakota Legislature. Last week, House Bill 1161, which prohibits the South Dakota High School Activities Association from making policy pertaining to sexuality or gender identity, passed House Education on a 9–6 vote. The House deferred HB 1161 Thursday, perhaps because it had already approved the markedly worse House Bill 1195, which not only repeals the SDHSAA's gender-choice rules but mandates athlete gender be determined by birth certificate first, physical exam second. HB 1195 passed the House 51–16 Wednesday.

Democrats remain the consistent and unified defenders of gender fairness. In the votes above, Dems have been joined by Republican Reps. Steve Hickey, Thomas Holmes, Tim Johns, Herman Otten, Tona Rozum, Kyle Schoenfish, and Jacqueline Sly.

When the Minnesota State High School League debated its transgender policy last December, MinnPost interviewed Jazz Jennings, a 14-year-old who was born a boy but who identifies as a girl and competes on her high school's soccer, tennis, and track teams.

Her high school—I have to admit, my gut tries to put quote marks or an asterisk on that pronoun. I hear Jazz say girl brain, boy body, and I can't quite get my boy brain, wired to boy parts, around it. How can that be? What you see is what you get—how can we differ from the visible, physical reality in front of us?

I suppose I don't have to get as esoteric as atomic theory, relativity, or quantum physics to say that my daily experience does not describe, let alone set norms for, everyone else's. There are South Dakotans whose minds and bodies and junctions therebetween aren't like mine. The minor tedium I feel when I'm stuck sitting with guys talking football is nothing like the outright angst that some of my students feel when they are forced to play with the boys when every fiber of their soul says, "But I'm one of the girls!" To negate by law their gender identity is all the more oppressive and cruel.

I may not personally understand a disconnect between who my pants say I am and who my brain and heart say I am, but I understand that the world is more complicated than my limited experience. I also understand that I can be who I am without expecting, let alone demanding by law, that everyone else be like me.

Legislators, if you're struggling with the urge to impose your genetic predisposition on everyone else as "normal," watch this documentary about Jazz Jennings... then pull the plug on House Bills 1161 and 1195, and let the Activities Association and the schools handle this issue in the best interest of their students.

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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.

8 comments

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