Equity & Diversity

South Dakota and Minnesota Groups Consider Transgender-Athlete Proposals

By Bryan Toporek — April 30, 2014 2 min read
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Both the South Dakota High School Activities Association and the Minnesota State High School League are considering policies that would allow transgender students to participate in school sports based on their self-identified gender rather than the gender listed on their birth certificates, per Chris Murphy and Tom Nix of the Forum News Service.

Under the South Dakota group’s proposal, schools would review requests by transgender students before a Gender Identification Eligibility Committee made the final ruling, per The Associated Press. Wayne Carney, the association’s executive director, expressed his confidence to the AP that it would ultimately pass in June.

Neither organization cited legal action as the impetus for such policies being under consideration.

“We had a student move into our state about a year and a half to two years ago who was a transgendered student and had interest in participating in interscholastic activities, and we had no policy in place whatsoever,” said SDHSAA assistant executive director James Weaver to Murphy and Nix. “When we started looking around the country, we noticed a lot of states have a transgender policy either in effect, being written, or recently adopted, so we felt it was our prerogative to do our due diligence to be proactive on a transgender policy.”

The SDHSAA proposal went through a first reading on Tuesday at a board of directors meeting. It will be considered again in June, Weaver told Murphy and Nix, at which point, members can decide to put it up for a vote.

The Minnesota group’s policy is still in the draft process, according to the two reporters, so the organization’s board of directors has yet to see the final wording.

“Our legal counsel is in the process of drafting a transgender policy,” said MSHSL director of information Howard Voigt to Murphy and Nix. “More than likely it’s going to be on the agenda for consideration at the June 2 meeting.”

Both groups could be taking cues from California, which instituted a state law last August that allows students to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletics, consistent with his or her gender identity, “irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.” The law also allows transgender students to use facilities (namely, school locker rooms and bathrooms) consistent with their gender identity.

Even before the passage of that law last August, California offered significant protections based on a child’s gender, as my colleague Ross Brenneman covered in depth on the Rules for Engagement blog. The state was the first in the U.S. to ratify a law allowing transgender students to choose their sports teams based on gender identity, however.

Based on the comments of Carney and Weaver, it sounds as though South Dakota is only months away from joining California in that regard. And Minnesota might not be far behind.

On a related note: As my colleague Evie Blad covered on the Rules for Engagement blog, the U.S. Department of Education released updated Title IX guidance yesterday clarifying that the civil rights law’s protection extends to all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. That may put the onus on more state athletic associations to enact specific rules regarding transgender student-athletes, lest they chance running afoul of Title IX.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.