Gov. Kristi Noem championing bill to make South Dakota the next Republican-led state to bar transgender athletes

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PIERRE, SD (AP) — A South Dakota legislative committee on Friday approved a bill championed by Gov. Christie Noem to ban transgender women and girls from participating in school sports leagues that match their gender identity.

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With full lobbying from the Republican governor, the bill received enthusiastic approval in the Republican-dominated Senate State Affairs Committee, clearing a legislative hurdle that has been a significant obstacle to similar South Dakota bills in the past. This was the first bill that the committee had taken up this year as lawmakers tried to fast-track it through the Rajya Sabha.

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,The High School Activities Association insists that it already has a policy in place that ensures fair competition.,

Every Republican on the committee approved the bill despite opponents’ warnings that it alienates and threatens transgender students and exposes public schools to legal action for a political cause that has not been an issue in South Dakota. Is. Proponents say it protects girls’ sport from trans athletes who may be bigger, faster and stronger than their peers.

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“The passage of this bill will directly harm children,” said Jennifer Phalen, whose transgender daughter aspires to participate in school gymnastics. “It would directly hurt my daughter and take away her freedom to participate in activities with her peers.”

“As a parent, I don’t really care if she becomes an elite athlete, but I want her to have the experience of being on a team,” she told the committee in an emotional testimony.

If the bill passes the legislature, South Dakota could be the 10th Republican-dominated state to adopt such a ban on transgender women or girls. In two of those states, Idaho and West Virginia, laws have been overturned by federal judges. The US Justice Department has challenged the sanctions in other states, calling them a violation of federal law.

But lawmakers have used the Pennsylvania case of a 22-year-old transgender woman who has had a prime swimming year for the University of Pennsylvania as proof that trans athletes have an unfair advantage over their competition. Is.

“Allowing men to compete destroys fair competition and athletic opportunities for girls,” Rachel Oglesby, the governor’s policy adviser, told the committee. “Similarly talented and trained men will always have a physical advantage over women.”

The High School Activities Association insists that it already has a policy in place that ensures fair competition. Schools evaluate applications from transgender athletes on a case-by-case basis and only allow a transgender girl to play in a girls’ league once. The Athletics Association has said it did not spoil the competition.

Groups representing public schools said politicians were forcing them to choose between violating state law or federal policy. The Associated School Boards warned that they could lose federal funding if an investigation by the US Department of Health and Human Services found that schools violated students’ rights.

“This particular bill does nothing, absolutely nothing to help young people,” said Diana Miller, who represents South Dakota’s largest school districts. “What it is is discriminatory, unfair, and it is not necessary.”

In an acknowledgment that the schools were being put at legal risk, the governor’s office amended the bill to stipulate that the state would provide legal representation and pay the cost of any lawsuits. Mark Miller, the governor’s chief of staff, insisted that the proposed law complies with the Constitution, that other states have successfully implemented similar laws and that if a lawsuit is filed, it would prevail in state court.

Noem avoided signing a similar bill last year, issuing a “style and form veto” and arguing it was flawed because it put the state at risk of litigation and retaliation from the NCAA.

But this year, she seized a cause’s momentum among Republicans and voiced her support for “defending fairness in the women’s sport” as she tries to rehabilitate her standing with social conservatives.

From the archives (July 2021): Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota takes aim at fellow Republicans to consider 2024 presidential bid

Noem launched a campaign ad this week claiming she “never held back” on the issue. And if there was any doubt that her political ambitions extend beyond South Dakota — the state where she is running for re-election and where the proposed law will take effect — the ad is running on channels nationwide.

This is why critics described the bill as nothing more than propaganda.

“This is not about an issue that is really happening in South Dakota,” said Roger Tellinghusen, representing the Human Rights Campaign, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ people. “It’s a political statement – that’s all.”

Viewers of one: The Republican candidate for governor in Nevada running campaign ads in Palm Beach, Fla.

Noem warming to the issue reflects the growing clout of social conservatives in the GOP and their ability to persuade politicians to support legislation that discriminates against LGBTQ people.

John Schweppe, director of policy at the social conservative group, the American Principles Project, praised Noem’s bill, slamming him for effectively killing the law last year.

“To see him now come out with a stronger bill, see him support this issue and make it his priority, we’ve really never seen anything like this before with Republicans,” he said. “I think it’s an important moment.”

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