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Transgender discrimination, fair competition brought up in school sports bill

Transgender discrimination, fair competition brought up in school sports bill

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North Dakota lawmakers are wading into issues of gender in sports with a bill critics say would discriminate against transgender students.

Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, introduced House Bill 1298 on Monday to the House Human Services Committee. The bill in part would prohibit a publicly funded school from allowing a person to participate on a girls or boys team if the person “was assigned the opposite sex at birth.”

Bill opponents say the legislation targets and excludes transgender students from athletics. Koppelman and supporters say the bill would ensure fair competition for girls in middle school and high school sports.

Koppelman's testimony cited differences in male and female physiology and noted the bill's topic has become a larger debate on the national level.

"If we choose to do nothing, we will by default be allowing those opportunities of our women to be lost or greatly reduced as society attempts to remove any reference to biological sex and replaces it with a social construct of self-identification," he told the committee. "We will in essence be allowing the panels in the glass ceiling to be reconstructed and reinstalled over the heads of women in the name of feelings rather than science."

Supporters of the bill say it would ensure fairness and preserve progress for girls and women's sports made with Title IX, a 1972 federal law that protects people from sex-based discrimination in school programs and activities that receive federal money.

Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the legislation is not an LGBTQ bill. She supports it because of Title IX.

"I think it's horrific that we are allowing that right that we fought for for so long, that has stood for 50 years now around the nation just to be absolutely taken away because someone fights the biological sex they were given at conception," she said.

Myrdal offered amendments to the bill but didn't elaborate on them.

The North Dakota High School Activities Association, which oversees school sports, has a transgender student board regulation that states:

  • Any transgender student who is not taking hormone treatment related to gender transition may participate in a sex-separated interscholastic contest in accordance with the sex assigned to him or her at birth.
  • A trans male (female to male) student who has undergone treatment with testosterone for gender transition may compete in a contest for boys but is no longer eligible to compete in a contest for girls.
  • A trans female (male to female) student being treated with testosterone suppression medication for gender transition may continue to compete in a contest for boys but may not compete in a contest for girls until completing one calendar year of documented testosterone-suppression treatment.

It's unclear how many students have played under the regulation. Koppelman said he's not aware of any trans female high school athletes in North Dakota.

"I think the criticism of this bill is basically criticizing the bill's preemption against allowing something that isn't happening and hasn't happened that maybe some individuals would like to see happen," he told the Tribune.

Directors of the High School Activities Association did not immediately respond to a Tribune inquiry regarding the regulation and the bill. The organization didn't testify on the bill.

Several opponents said the bill is discriminatory.

Dave Williams, president of the Bismarck chapter of Parents, Friends and Allies of people who are LGBTQ, spoke about his transgender teenager's experience participating in middle school track, going from "a reclusive outcast to being part of something and allowing our child to be who they are."

"We met with the coaches. They were professionals and treated our child like anyone else -- no favoritism, no shaming; just practice hard and represent your school," Williams said. 

"The next hurdle was the teammates," he said. "Would they be proud athletes or bullies? What we found was, as soon as they experienced that our child was just a kid playing sports, who worked hard and participated, any fear and need to shame our child turned to the support of a fellow competitor."

North Dakota University System Director of Student Affairs Katie Fitzsimmons said the bill would threaten the hosting of national collegiate athletics in the state, such as football and hockey playoffs. The bill would prohibit certain athletic facilities from being used for an event in which a transgender student was taking part.

The bill also is broad and could extend to intramural activities or community leagues that use state or university facilities, Fitzsimmons said. University system institutions would have to maintain birth certificate records for more than 45,000 students to carry out the bill, she added.

"It could transform a simple flag football sign-up sheet into a legal and logistical nightmare," Fitzsimmons said. 

Bill opponents also said legislation like Koppelman's bill gives North Dakota a poor image when it comes to welcoming minority groups.

"Personally, this bill as well as other anti-LGBT legislation has encouraged me to live in Minnesota despite cheaper taxes, lower house prices and better commerce in Fargo," Concordia College Head Women's Soccer Coach Rebecca Quimby said. She and her wife, Chelsea, looked to Minnesota when buying a home, because "we felt that our rights as an LGBT couple would be better protected," she said.

After the bill's hearing closed, Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, who chairs the committee, called for people in the room to distance themselves from each other. At least 30 people were grouped near the entry to the room, several not wearing face masks, which is against a rule of the Legislature.

The committee did not take immediate action on the bill.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-223-8482 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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