A tie vote provided a victory for transgender student athletes in South Dakota, where state lawmakers tied on a proposal to change how they compete, The Daily Republic reported.
After voting 34 to 34, the South Dakota House on Monday killed House Bill 1225, which would have voided current state policy and restricted trans high school students to athletic competitions that corresponded to the gender they were assigned at birth, according to the Argus Leader. Those student athletes would be required to produce a birth certificate or undergo a physical exam to verify their sex as male or female.
Critics of the bill say it would have enshrined transgender discrimination into law and violate the U.S. Constitution’s equal protections clause.
“All young people should have the opportunity to play high school sports and have their personal dignity respected,” Libby Skarin, policy director of South Dakota’s ACLU, said. “Transgender students are no different. No one is harmed by allowing transgender people to compete consistent with who they are.”
South Dakota’s current policy allows students who complete a formal application to compete according to their gender identity. The rule was adopted in 2014 and is governed by a nonprofit, the South Dakota High School Activities Association, which is independent from the state government.
Proponents took a distinctly binary and transphobic position, declaring the bill was about sex, male and female, not gender. “It’s unfair for girls to be subjected to competition against boys,” said House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, the bill’s prime sponsor. “They just can’t compete.”
However, House Minority Leader Rep. Jamie Smith countered that the decision should be left to the South Dakota High School Activities Association, which has been making rules on high school athletics in the state for more than a century.
“It’s going to bring a lot of disgrace to our state,” Rep. Nancy York said, arguing against passage of HB 1225. “It’s probably going to bring a lawsuit. We’re going to be accused of being unloving and unwilling to cooperate with all the kids in the state.”
Others noted that the bill was attempting to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.
“We are so concerned with winning in this body that we’ve forgotten that our children go out for athletics (...) because they like to participate,” said Rep. Linda Duba. “We’ve lost our minds in giving anecdotal information about somehow some six-foot-three, 240-pound person is going to be one that court or on that field. I can assure you that’s not happening. We’re just not hearing this from coaches, administrators, schools, parents or athletes.”
According to Executive Director Dan Swartos, the SDHSAA has never received a formal complaint on the current policy from a school, parent or student. He said “less than a handful” of students compete under the policy.
HB 1225 was nearly identical to a bill already killed by the South Dakota State Senate in January, and is one of four anti-transgender measures defeated this session.
But as Nico Lang reported for NewNowNext, despite Monday’s vote, the ACLU’s Skarin warns the fight over HB 1225 actually isn’t over: the bill could be revived through an obscure legislative rule called “hog housing.”
“You take the text out of a bill completely and you insert brand new text,” she told NewNowNext. “As long as there’s one word in the title that matches up with the body of the bill, then that’s okay. You really have to be on guard until the legislature gavels out for the session.”
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EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated to include additional reporting by Nico Lang of NewNowNext.