South Dakota Legislators Push Bill Targeting Trans Students

South Dakota lawmakers target transgender student athletes with new bill.

State lawmakers introduced a bill to the South Dakota Senate on Monday that would limit trans students’ ability to participate in school sports.

Senate Bill 49, co-sponsored by Republicans state Sen. Jim Bolin and state Rep. Thomas Brunner, would “declare void the transgender procedure adopted by the South Dakota High School Activities Association.” That procedure, adopted in 2015, allows trans students to participate in athletic activities in line with their self-identified gender, rather than their gender assigned at birth — for example,  trans boys can join the boys’ wrestling team, and trans girls can play basketball on the girls’ team. SB49 would bar such allowances, forcing trans girls to compete with boys and trans boys to compete with girls.

This is not the first time South Dakota lawmakers have tried to legislate against the trans students they were elected to represent, says Chase Strangio, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union. In 2016, for example, the state legislature passed a measure that would have forced trans students to use public restrooms that aligned with their sex assigned at birth. Former Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, vetoed the measure, noting that it “does not address any pressing issue concerning the school districts of South Dakota,” and promised to veto similarly anti-trans legislation the following year.

Daugaard acted as a kind of stopgap, says Strangio, arguing against the necessity of anti-trans legislation and preventing any measures that passed from becoming law. His successor, current Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, feels very differently on the matter. She made anti-trans legislation a key part of her platform during South Dakota’s 2018 gubernatorial election, promising to sign any bathroom bill that crosses her desk.

“It’s somewhat unbelievable that lawmakers continue to use their power to target trans students,” says Strangio. “It’s a solution in search of a problem — just an effort to target a group of people they don’t like.”

State Sen. Bolin, one of SB49’s co-sponsors, told local ABC affiliate KSFY that the bill is “all about fair competition.” Dan Swartos, director of the South Dakota High School Activities Association, plans to defend the organization’s trans-inclusive policy, KSFY reports.

Related: Teacher Who Refused to Call Transgender Students by Their Preferred Name Was Forced to Resign

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