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North Dakota governor vetoes bill banning transgender athletes from competing in their gender identity

Doug Burgum says there has not been "a single recorded incident" of a trans athlete seeking to play on a girls' sports team in North Dakota.

North Dakota
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum – Photo: Facebook.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) has vetoed a bill restricting transgender athletes from competing in K-12 sports based on their gender identity.

The bill previously passed the House of Representatives, 69-25, and the Senate, 27-20, meaning there are enough votes in the House, but not the Senate, to override Burgum’s veto.

In a statement explaining his veto, Burgum said there is no evidence to support the claim that fairness in women’s sports is at risk if transgender athletes are allowed to compete.

He said there has not been “a single recorded incident” of a transgender female attempting to play on a girls’ sports team, and noted that changing the North Dakota High School Athletic Association’s policy would not apply to private or tribal schools, meaning the bill itself creates an uneven playing field, according to Inforum, a news website covering North Dakota and Minnesota news.

“North Dakota today has a level playing field and fairness in girls’ sports,” Burgum said, citing NDHSAA’s existing policies on athlete participation. “We have every confidence that they will continue to ensure a level playing field for the 27,000 students who participate in North Dakota high school sports.”

Under the bill, K-12 schools in North Dakota would be prohibited from “knowingly” allowing a person to join a sports team designated for a gender other than the one matching their assigned sex at birth, and would allow athletes who believe they’ve lost out on opportunities or awards due to the presence of a transgender athlete on an opposing team to sue.

But Burgum warned that the bill would “unnecessarily inject the state into a local issue by creating a ban with myriad unforeseen consequences.” 

While 65 nearly-identical bills have been introduced in close to 30 state legislatures this year, opponents — and even some Republican lawmakers who might be in favor of the bill, at least in theory — have expressed concern that passing a ban on transgender athletes could provoke the NCAA, the governing body of college athletics, to penalize states by removing championships or tournaments from states with laws viewed as hostile to the LGBTQ community.

The NCAA recently released a statement reiterating its policy that host cities and states are expected to “commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination” to ensure that athletes and fans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, do not experience discrimination while attending sporting events.

See also: Dr. Rachel Levine speaks out against bills targeting transgender athletes, health care

Republican leaders in the North Dakota House and Senate have vowed to hold votes to override Burgum’s veto. Lead sponsor Sen. Janne Myrdal (R-Edinburg) blasted Burgum’s actions, claiming “he just told all the parents of young girls that they don’t matter when it comes to Title IX,” she said, referring to the 1972 federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in schools.

“On this particular issue — with no disrespect to the governor — he’s dead wrong,” Myrdal said.

Identical bans on transgender athletes have been signed into law in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas, with governors in Alabama, Montana, West Virginia, and Oklahoma expected to follow suit. South Dakota lawmakers passed their own ban, but it was vetoed by Gov. Kristi Noem over concerns that it was overly broad. Noem then issued executive orders restricting transgender participation, but continues to face blowback from social conservatives for not signing the ban into effect. 

Starting block – Photo: Santeri Viinamäki, via Wikimedia.

But LGBTQ advocates praised the veto of a bill they said was harmful to transgender youth.

“House Bill 1298 was never about leveling the playing field for student athletes. It was obvious from the beginning that this discriminatory legislation was about creating solutions to problems that don’t exist and, in the process, harming some of the most vulnerable people in our state, Libby Skarin, the campaigns director for the ACLU of North Dakota, said in a statement. “Nobody wins when politicians try to meddle in people’s lives like this. Nobody wins when we try to codify discrimination like this. We’re thrilled with Gov. Burgum’s decision to veto this bill.”

“Governor Burgum heard the loud voices of the general public including transgender people and their families, medical experts and the business and sports communities coming together to oppose anti-transgender legislation,” Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “Public polling clearly shows that a vast majority of Americans, including 66% of Republicans, oppose this anti-transgender sports ban legislation. Further, these bills have dire consequences for transgender kids, who experience heightened levels of anxiety, depression, dysphoria, and suicidal ideation.”

“Governor Burgum recognized — as we hope other governors will — that these bills also have severe implications for states that pass enact this legislation, from economic consequences to taxpayer funded litigation to reputational damage,” David added. “Transgender kids are kids and they deserve every opportunity that any kid does. Transgender kids and all North Dakotans will be better off because of Governor Burgum’s decision.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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