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North Dakota lawmakers have passed a bill barring transgender athletes from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity.
The bill passed the House, 69-25, and the Senate, 27-20, after lawmakers negotiated some of its provisions in conference committee. Lawmakers have now sent it to Gov. Doug Burgum (R) for his signature.
Originally, the House bill had been much more expansive, extending a prohibition on transgender athletes competing based on their gender identity to include any publicly-funded entities, facilities, or events, which would include college and club sports. Meanwhile, the Senate version had sought to commission a study on the issue of transgender participation in sports.
Ultimately, the bill that emerged and was passed by both chambers included a scaled-back ban on transgender athletes in K-12 sports and an optional study of the impact of the bill on student athletic events, with findings being reported back to the 2023 legislature.
As approved this week, the bill prohibits public schools from “knowingly” allowing a student assigned male at birth to participate in female sports.
However, the bill contains an exemption allowing cisgender girls (and presumably, transgender boys) to compete in sports designated for male athletes.
Supporters of the bill claim it’s necessary to preserve opportunities for cisgender female athletes, who are at a biological disadvantage compared to transgender females and cisgender boys, to compete and excel in sports.
But opponents say the bill will only further harm and isolate transgender children, putting them at risk of bullying and harassment and sending a message that they don’t belong to their school communities.
North Dakota’s sports ban is one of nearly 200 bills introduced in 30 different states seeking to weaken protections or rights for LGBTQ people, with more than half specifically targeting transgender youth.
The bills, mostly sponsored by Republican lawmakers, are backed by a slew of national anti-LGBTQ organizations, including the Heritage Foundation, the Eagle Forum, and Alliance Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a “hate group.”
Just as has occurred over the past decade with conservative bills pushed by groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, this year’s slate of anti-LGBTQ bills stems from boilerplate legislation that has been copied, often times verbatim, with the intent of passing identical laws throughout the country.
This year’s anti-LGBTQ bills foster misinformation or myths about LGBTQ people, particularly transgender individuals, vilifying them in an attempt to marshal public support for restrictions.
Already this year, governors in three states, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee have signed bans on transgender athletes into law.
South Dakota lawmakers passed a similar bill that was vetoed by Gov. Kristi Noem (R) over concerns that the bill was too far-reaching.
When lawmakers failed to revise the bill to conform to her expectations, Noem issued two executive orders calling for schools to restrict transgender athletes from competing in their gender identity.
Besides North Dakota, transgender athlete bans have been sent to governors in Alabama, Montana, and West Virginia, and may soon be passed in Texas.
The North Dakota ban now heads to Gov. Doug Burgum, who has not taken a position on the legislation, according to the Grand Forks Herald. However, Burgum previously renounced anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that appeared in the state’s GOP platform last summer.
If Burgum decided to veto the bill, the House has enough votes to override his veto, while it is unclear whether there are enough votes to override in the Senate.
LGBTQ advocates and their allies denounced the bill and called on Burgum to veto it.
“Nobody wins when politicians start meddling in people’s lives like this,” Libby Skarin, the campaign director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota, said in a statement. “Nobody wins when we codify discrimination like this. Inclusive teams that support all athletes and encourage participation should be the standard for all school sports.”
“By sending this dangerous and discriminatory anti-transgender sports ban bill to Governor Burgum’s desk, North Dakota legislators have targeted a group of students who already face high levels of discrimination,” Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.
“Governor Noem of South Dakota and Governor Cox of Utah have both expressed fears about the implications these kinds of bills would have in their state, and North Dakotans should have similar concerns about the economic harm and endless litigation that could stem from passing this bill,” David continued.
“Legislators have yet to cite any examples of the problem they claim to be legislating because they simply don’t exist. Instead this legislation is driven by fear rather than facts, science, or medical expertise.”
David added: “Transgender kids are kids, and denying them the opportunity to participate is dangerous and harmful. Targeting them rather than focusing on addressing COVID-19 and its economic impacts does not help solve the real issues North Dakota faces.”
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