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Two Bills Target SDHSAA Transgender Policy

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.


  1. mike from iowa 2015.02.06

    Bruce Jenner must have rilly freaked out wingnuts.

  2. Lynn 2015.02.06

    The recent cracker barrel in Rapid involved an interesting yet typical response from Rep. Mike Verchio who supports micro-managing this.

    It looks like the SDHSAA would have a better and more objective grasp on this with considering all the variables and resources that are involved in such a complex situation such as this. Not every situation is the same.

    This is just another example of legislation based on unfounded fear. These SDGOP legislators are making far more out of this than what it needs to be.

    When Rep. Verchio stated "These are my core conservative Christian values and principles," he said. "That's it, that's the only comment I'm going to make on it. I believe one thing, they believe another, simple as that."

    I respect your personal faith but as our state legislator you should be reminded of the separation of church and state and this seems to be an intrusion. South Dakota is not a Theocracy. This subject pertains to public schools right? Please leave this up to the secular SDHSAA.

  3. leslie 2015.02.06

    SOS john kerry is appointing a seasoned diplomat dedicated as a LGBT envoy. Putin, however, like our legislature, is not.

  4. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.06

    Verchio is welcome to his principles and he can inflict them on his immediate family to assuage his quaking heart. But he doesn't get to insist that the rest of the state does the same.

  5. Tamara Jeanne 2015.02.08

    There some real problems that HB 1195 would cause if passed into law.

    First it is in clear violation of Title IX. I have verified this fact with several attorneys that I have consulted with this past weeK while preparing testmony against the bill.

    Another issue that HB116 creates, has to do with a conflict that the bill will create with regards to the SDHSAA mixed gender sports policy which would be unaffected by HB 1195. The mixed sports policy allows girls to play male only sports like football, as mentioned in the closing paragraph above. That policy also allows boys to play girls only sports, like Girls Vollyball. This will not change. The mixed sports policy was the result of a series of lawsuits from back in the 70s and early 80s filed by girls who wanted to play football. They won those lawsuits and thus we now have the mixed gender sports policy that has been in place for more then 20 years. HB 1195 limits transgender students to only being able to play the sports that match their birth assigned gender. This is where the problem arises. HB 1195 creates a clerk disciminatory conflict with the mixed gender sports policy. This is because, while cis-gendered girls and cis-gendered boys are allowed to play sports that HB 1195 expressly bans transgender students from playing those same sports.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.02.08

    Title IX? Uh oh—sounds like this bill is toast. But does the language of HB 1195 really ban transgender students from playing? It assigns them a gender identity based on either birth certificate or the physical exam pro's call, but whether that identity squares with the student's choice, won't that student still be able to join the one-sex sports in question?

    By the way, HB 1195 goes before House State Affairs tomorrow morning at 7:45 a.m.

  7. Lynn 2015.02.10

    It sounds like the opposition to these bills are now focusing on the legal costs if HB 1195 and HB 1161 are passed. Not only would the SDHSAA be sued but also the State of South Dakota. The lawsuits will come and the state will once again lose in defense of bad policy be wasting badly needed funds that could used elsewhere.

  8. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.10

    Bingo, Lynn.

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