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.


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.


And another thing: Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey's poopy-sex tirade veers around the corner to attack the South Dakota High School Activities Association for establishing policies on transgender student participation:

The South Dakota High School Activities Association is presently considering changing the rules to accommodate transgender kids. Forty-one percent of those who struggle with Gender Dysphoria attempt suicide, that's twenty-five times the rate of the general population– certainly tragic and urgent but not a word from the medical and psychological communities? So really, we are letting our basketball coaches sort it out while ACLU lawyers look carefully over their shoulders!?

Letting boys play girl sports is not the starting place to fix the suicide problem or the very real daily struggle these students face dealing with something they have been handed in life. Society is broken and people have broken identities. Is it really best for us to break down the one remaining thing that has been working in society to try to fix the broken in our midst? And does it really even do that, or does it merely put them in more places exposing them to additional painful ostracization all the while transferring serious anxieties to other innocent and impressionable ones in those locker rooms? We need to have compassion but there are unintended consequences to consider too [Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey, "A One Way Alley for the Garbage Truck," Facebook post, 2014.04.28].

From a pure composition teaching perspective, Hickey's digression on the SDHSAA and transgender students does not fit with his main thesis, that anal sex is unhealthy and we thus should not overturn South Dakota's ban on same-sex marriage. Accommodating the needs and desires of students who feel their psychological identity does not match their biological sex is really an entirely different issue. Transgender students may or may not be engaging in any sexual activity, and what they do with their anuses (ani?), mouths, and other equipment is (1) none of our business and (2) irrelevant to whether they are allowed to participate in basketball or volleyball. (Hey, kids, did you notice this question won't come up at all in debate, interp, one-act play, or any of the other fine arts activities the SDHSAA offers?)

Whether we assign transgender students to boys or girls sports is a sensitive topic, requiring thoughtful deliberation. Having very little experience in this area, I will tentatively suggest that, while I don't want to question anyone's chosen identity, basic hardware questions apply. If you are a female trapped in a male body, and you haven't started the physical treatments to change your body, you have a male body, and it's only fair that you compete against other male bodies.

But in the mean time, what you do with that body when you are not on the court or the track is your business. Follow training rules, be healthy... but don't let Pastor Hickey tell you that your sexual choices should affect whether or with whom you get to play ball at school.


Maybe we should put Wayne Carney in charge of the EB-5 visa program.

Mitchell Christian High School finds itself embroiled in a minor visa controversy. A group called A-HOPE (African Hoop Opportunities Providing an Education) brought Sudanese exchange student Majok Mangar Majok to Mitchell on an F-1 visa December 1. He enrolled as a sophomore at Mitchell Christian the next day, expecting to suit up right away and play basketball. The South Dakota High School Activities Association told the 6'9" (yes, that detail is relevant) student to go back to his books; under an F-1 visa, he's not eligible to play ball.

SDHSAA executive director Wayne Carney explains to the Mitchell Daily Republic that we have rules on who can play ball and who can't. We let foreign exchange students on J-1 visa play, because those students are on official, government-sponsored exchange programs. F-1 visa holders are here under the aegis of private student exchange programs. We permit F-1 visa holders to play if they come from one of 24 vetted, reputable programs, of which A-HOPE is not one.

A-HOPE, an organization based in basketball-obsessed Indiana, doesn't look for promising math scholars, future engineers, or budding writers. It doesn't pick smart short kids. It searches Africa for young gladiators, tall, strong boys who can entertain us in our arenas.

A-HOPE athletes have faced eligibility questions in other states. The Illinois High School Association ruled that A-HOPE takes advantage of its recruits. An ESPN investigation in 2011 found that A-HOPE spends most of its money on travel and very little on helping to provide an education. That ESPN story included this perhaps relevant finding:

The 12 players A-HOPE identifies as members of its past five classes attended at least 32 U.S. high schools among them. "It seems to be this recruitment tool for the [summer travel teams]," says Chet Marshall, an administrator at Culver (Ind.) Academy, the first of four private schools attended by Perea. "And during the year, by the way, 'We'll find you a private school so you can stay out of trouble and no one else [in the basketball subculture] can find you'" [Mike Fish, "Basketball Ties That Bind,", 2011.05.26].

The SDHSAA establishes eligibility rules to prevent extracurriculars from pre-empting the educational mission of our schools. Here's the SDHSAA's rationale for transfer/residency requirements:

A transfer/residency requirement assists in the prevention of students changing schools in conjunction with the change of athletic season for athletic purposes; impairs recruitment, and reduces the opportunity for undue influence to be exerted by persons seeking to benefit from a student-athletes prowess.

A transfer/residency requirement promotes stability and harmony amongst member schools by maintaining the amateur standing of high school athletics; by not letting individuals other than enrolled students participate, and upholding the principle that a student should attend the high school in the district where the student’s guardian(s) reside.

A transfer/residency requirement also prohibits foreign students, other than students who are participants in an established foreign exchange program accepted for listing by the Council on Standard for International Educational Travel (CSIET), from displacing other students from athletic opportunities [South Dakota High School Activities Association, "Eligibility Rules and Regulations," updated July 2013].

Under normal open enrollment rules, a student who switches schools mid-year has to sit out for nine school weeks before participating in any extra-curricular activities. SDHSAA will waive that rule in cases of hardship. But there appears to be no hardship here. Majok isn't a refugee uprooted from his home unexpectedly by war or other grim circumstances. He is the subject of a program seeking specifically to seed small, out-of-the-way high schools with basketball players:

“If the program was on the list, it would give it some validity,” Carney said. “Then we would know the students are not being placed at schools on their athletic abilities.”

[Mitchell Christian superintendent Joseph] Fox said he thought Majok would leave the school due to being held out of athletics for a full year [Aaron Saunders, "Foreign Exchange Student Ruled Ineligible for MCS Boys," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2013.12.19].

Majok's quick change of venue shows that A-HOPE does not have educational opportunities as its primary mission; SDHSAA is thus right not to play ball with them.


Support Your Local Blogger!

  • Click the Tip Jar to send your donation to the Madville Times via PayPal, and support local alternative news and commentary!

South Dakota Political Blogs

Greater SD Blogosphere

SD Mostly Political Mix

Greater SD Blogosphere

Madville Monthly