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Sponsors of North Dakota’s trans student-athlete ban linked to leading anti-LGBTQ organizations

Sponsors deny the links are an issue as opponents note a growing, nationally-coordinated campaign against transgender Americans.

North Dakota Republican state representative Ben Koppelman is the lead sponsor on a bill to ban transgender student-athletes from interscholastic and intercollegiate sports. He is also a signatory supporter to an effort championed by two major anti-LGBTQ organizations
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With increasing scrutiny on the recent wave of anti-transgender legislation across the country, a report in a North Dakota newspaper over the weekend revealed that sponsors of a bill that would ban transgender students from participating in interscholastic and intercollegiate athletics have ties to anti-LGBTQ policy groups on the frontlines of the issue.

According to the report in the Grand Forks Herald on March 13, the lead sponsor of HB1298 is Republican State Rep. Ben Koppelman, a policymaker signatory on the Promise for America’s Children, an initiative sponsored by a consortium of 18 mainly conservative and Christian-aligned groups. Two of the lead sponsors of this initiative are the Alliance Defending Freedom, who has been cited as the engine behind much of this year’s wave of legislation, and the even more well-known, anti-LGBTQ Heritage Foundation.

Fellow co-sponsor and Republican State Sen. Janne Myrdal is a former state director of Concerned Women for America, another conservative organization which has stood in support of a number of groups supporting anti-trans legislation including Save Women’s Sports. The CWA also supports two federal efforts similar to HB1298, and they have been a vocal opponent of the Equality Act, claiming it “erases women” and is “deceptive”.

Both sponsors say their affiliations have bearing on why they support the legislation. Myrdal told the Herald, “For me, it is 100% a Title IX issue.” Koppelman stated that his support was solely on matters of sports and fairness and not on gender identity. He also criticized how advocacy groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, labels the ADF an extremist anti-LGBTQ hate group.

“What’s a concern to me is when we start defining organizations that have moral points of view, if you want to say it that way, where we start labeling them with things like ‘hate group,’” Koppelman told the Herald. “As I understand it, every person should be able to make the case for why they stand for certain values.”

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Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed a trans student-athlete ban into law last week, making Mississippi to first to do so in near a year.
Photo by ROGELIO V. SOLIS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Bills nearly identical to HB1298 are on the table in 25 states and are destined to become law in at least two states: Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed his state’s bill last week and it’s set to go into effect in July; South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has the bill on her desk, but is still weighing her options.

Opponents of anti-trans legislation point to key language found in these bills as indicative of their true authors. HB1298 contains a phrase that has been identified as a tool of oppression utilized by opponents of inclusion in order to cast trans people as “other” or ““not normal:” “an individual’s biological sex... is based solely on an individual’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth”. These phrases are the exact same rhetoric that anti-trans organizations and their supporters use in their transphobic propaganda.

Faye Seidler, a Fargo trans advocate and organizer, noted that such framing and its wider meanings could be a template for extended policy goals beyond this measure. “These legislative efforts attempt to define sex in a way that eliminates transgender individuals from protections,” Seidler told the Herald. “The goal could be to force a lawsuit, appeal it, get it taken to a Supreme Court, and get a victory that redefines sex as a conservative political construction rather than be based in the diversity of biology or science. If that were achieved, then all the victories and protections afforded to trans individuals could become moot or otherwise less effective.”