North Dakota Lawmakers Consider Bill Requiring Sports Participation to Be Based on Biological Sex

AP Photo/Pat Eaton-Robb

Lawmakers in North Dakota are taking up legislation that would allow competing in sports in high school and college based on one’s biological sex.

If it becomes law it would mean that girls or boys could not participate in sports based on their preferred gender, they would have to compete based on their actual sex.

The Grand Forks Herald reported on the bill:

House Bill 1298 would prevent publicly funded institutions, like high schools and universities, from allowing any “individual who was assigned the opposite sex at birth to participate on an athletic team” that is designed “exclusively for females or exclusively for males.” Additionally, the bill would outlaw any state-owned athletic facility from hosting a competition in which an athlete competes against anyone outside of the gender they were assigned at birth.

But while LGBTQ advocates argued the bill would have far-reaching implications for transgender people in North Dakota, its lead sponsor, Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, said the legislation “has nothing to do with transgender athletes.” Instead, Koppelman said he is pursuing changes to the law out of a concern for fairness in sports and to prevent women from being disadvantaged by having to compete against men.

While transgender athletes are not explicitly noted in Koppelman’s bill, critics argued that it clearly targets the transgender community. House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, said he couldn’t think of “any other reason that this bill would be introduced.”

“I kind of dismiss the idea that it should be about trans, because it’s not about trans — it’s about fair competition,” Koppelman said. “What it’s based on is science that says, ‘Here are the physiological differences between people when they are born.’ And these are irreversible things.

“I don’t know the problem that’s trying to be solved,” Koppelman said.

Right now under a North Dakota High School Activities Association 2015 statute transgender students taking hormonal supplements can compete in sports under their gender identity on a case by case basis.

“Under this policy, a student who has transitioned from female to male may compete in boys sports but is no longer eligible to compete in girls sports,” the Tribune reported. “A student who has transitioned from male to female may continue to compete in boys sports and is eligible to compete in girls sports after completing one year of testosterone suppression.”

The Tribune interviewed opponents to the legislation, including Libby Skarin, a regional campaign director with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who said the bill is “an attack on transgender North Dakotans.”

“Either don’t compete at all, or compete in a sport that doesn’t match their gender identity,” Skarin said.

Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, is a co-sponsor on the bill and said it was about women’s rights and disagrees.

“I would never want my daughter to play in sports and have a guy beat her out in track or out in javelin, where she has no chance,” Myrdal said. 

“Unlike a transgender athlete bill defeated in the South Dakota Legislature in 2019, Koppelman’s bill also applies to collegiate athletics, a difference that Skarin said could put North Dakota out of step with national governing bodies like the National Collegiate Athletic Association,” the Tribune reported.

The NCAA supports athletes competing according to their perceived gender rather than their biological sex.

Mydral said in the report that students have to make choices, including whether they want to pursue athletics.

“People will scream and holler and say, ‘Oh, you denied them being in sports,'” she said. “Yeah, maybe we do. So maybe by making that choice to try to change your gender, you lose some opportunities. But you’re not going to take all women and girls’ opportunities away just because you wish to do that.”

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