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South Dakota lawmakers introduce bill targeting transgender student athletes

The proposed legislation would define a student athlete's gender by their birth certificate.

South Dakota legislators have introduced a bill that would prohibit transgender students from participating on athletic teams according to their gender identity.  (PHOTO CREDIT: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)
South Dakota legislators have introduced a bill that would prohibit transgender students from participating on athletic teams according to their gender identity. (PHOTO CREDIT: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

South Dakota has kicked off its legislative session with a bill targeting transgender kids, the fourth year in a row that the state has emerged as the first in the country to take such discriminatory actions.

The new bill, introduced this week, would prohibit transgender students from participating on athletic teams according to their gender identity.

Since 2015, the South Dakota High School Athletics Association has allowed transgender students to participate in athletics after they provide the appropriate documentation verifying “the existence of the student’s consistent and uniform gender identification and expression.” Senate Bill 49 would overturn that decision outright, declaring it “void.”

The bill would specifically replace that accommodation with a policy that erases transgender people entirely. “For purposes of participation in athletics sanctioned by the association, the sole determinant of a student’s sexual identity is the sexual identity noted on the student’s certificate of birth,” the bill states. If that information is not available, the student’s sex will be determined by a health care professional during the student’s physical examination.

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The proposed policy closely mirrors the language proposed by the Trump administration as a uniform policy of transgender erasure across the federal government. Just as the South Dakota bill would rely on a physical, the administration wants to define people’s sex according to “the genitals that a person is born with,” subject to genetic testing.

South Dakota has proposed similar bills targeting transgender kids in years past. Last year’s iteration would have banned any instruction on gender identity or expression before eighth grade, which could have had devastating consequences for any transgender students younger than that. The sponsor withdrew the bill after admitting “there were issues he hadn’t thought of.”

The previous year, lawmakers proposed a bill that would have prohibited students from using school bathrooms except according to their “immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics existing at the time of birth.” They also passed a similar bill in 2016, but Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) vetoed it.

While none of these previous bills targeting transgender students have passed, South Dakota’s penchant for taking on anti-LGBTQ bills early in its legislative sessions has opened the discourse for other states to do the same. And the legislation doesn’t always fail: In 2017, South Dakota successful passed a law granting a license to discriminate to adoption agencies, and several other states have passed similar bills since.