Lawmakers hear testimony on bill limiting public sports participation “exclusively for males or females”

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It’s been less than a week since President Joe Biden signed an executive order signaling support for transgender youth in public schools and sports. A North Dakota bill would challenge that by requiring transgender athletes to play on sports teams aligned with their biological sex, not their gender identity.

West Fargo Republican Representative Ben Koppelman says, as far as he knows, there aren’t any transgender athletes playing in publicly funded sports in the state right now, but he’s concerned they could.

“As all trends do, they eventually come to North Dakota,” Koppelman said.

He sponsored House Bill 1298, which limits participation on sports teams exclusively to males or females as defined by birth certificate. Koppelman says it’s meant to protect women in sports, who shouldn’t have to compete against biological males with an inherent athletic edge.

“A woman who is the same size as her male counterpart is only 80 percent as strong, on average,” Koppelman said.

Co-sponsor and Edinburg Republican Senator Janne Myrdal says the bill bolsters Title IX, a 1972 law that protects equal opportunities for girls in sports.

“Allowing males to compete in girls sport reverses nearly 50 years of advances for women. You deserve equal opportunity, we said in 1972, and now we’re saying, except in sports,” Myrdal said.

Several people at the hearing strongly opposed the bill — including doctors, a college soccer coach, and the parent of a transgender child who joined their school’s track team.

“Our child went from a reclusive outcast to being part of something, and allowing our child to be who they are,” Dave Williams said. He’s also the Bismarck Chapter President of PFLAG, or Parents, Friends, and Allies of people who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer.

Dr. Luis Casas testified that he’s the only pediatric endocrinologist in the state. He says he regularly sees children seeking hormone treatment to alleviate gender dysphoria, and after some time, he says the hormones start to neutralize concerns about a biological edge. Plus — he argues — what about girls who may naturally have a physical advantage in a sport?

“In the same way we discriminate against trans youth, are we going to discriminate against a girl that’s too tall and will clearly have an advantage over all the other girls?” Casas said.

The House Human Services Committee, which heard the bill, did not yet act on whether to recommend its passage.

North Dakota’s legislature isn’t alone in considering restrictions on transgender students’ sports participation. Lawmakers in Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and New Hampshire have similar bills proposed.

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