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Transgender athletes in the US state of South Dakota could be banned from competing in school sports events that match their gender identity after a piece of legislation championed by Governor Kristi Noem was approved by committee.
The Republican politician has lobbied hard for the bill, which cleared the Senate State Affairs committee – also controlled by the Republicans – with a high level of support.
Previous attempts to get such a bill through have stalled at this stage, and the lawmakers appear keen to get this bill fast-tracked through.
Despite concerns that the bill is discriminatory against transgender students and could even be tantamount to bullying, every single Republican on the committee approved the bill.
Outside of the basic issue of student welfare and equality, the bill also potentially exposes schools to legal action over a political matter that has not proven to be an issue in the state.
However, those backing the legislation claim that it protects girls competing in sports from transgender athletes who may be bigger, faster, and stronger than those competing alongside them in school sporting events.
Many cite the example of University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, who smashed a number of records when competing in a collegiate meet in December.
Jennifer Phalen, who has a transgender daughter that wants to participate on her school’s gymnastics team, told The Independent: “As a parent, I don’t really care if she becomes an elite athlete, but I want her to have the experiences of being on a team.
“Passage of this bill would directly hurt children. It would directly hurt my daughter and take away her freedom to participate in activities with her peers.”
So far, 10 states with a Republican-dominated Senate have passed similar bills, although two of those states – West Virginia and Idaho – have had laws stopped by federal judges.
In other states, the US Department of Justice has issued challenges to the bans, accusing them of violating federal law.
In support of the ban, Governor Noem’s policy advisor Rachel Oglesby said: “Allowing males to compete destroys fair competition and athletic opportunities for girls.
"Similarly gifted and trained males will always have physical advantages over females.”
The high school activities association, which is in charge of school sports, has stated that they already have a fair competition policy in place, and evaluate participation applications from transgender athletes on a case-by-case basis, with the athletics association stating that on the one occasion they allowed a transgender girl to play in a girls league the competition was not spoiled.
The Associated School Boards also warned against schools losing federal funding if they are adjudged to have violated the rights of students upon investigation by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Diana Miller, on behalf of South Dakota’s largest school districts, said: “This particular bill does nothing, does absolutely nothing as far as helping young people,
“What it is is discriminatory, unfair, and it’s not necessary.”
Roger Tellinghuisen, from the Human Rights Campaign – an organisation advocating for the rights of LGBTQ people, said: “This isn’t about an issue that’s really happening in South Dakota,
“It’s a political statement — that’s all it is.”
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