South Dakota High School Activities Association Defends Transgender Student Athlete Policy


The board that oversees school activities in South Dakota is worried a bill focused on transgender students will lead to battles in the courtroom. Senate Bill 49 would void an activities association policy allowing transgender students to request to play on the athletic team that matches their gender identity. 

Lawmakers are attempting yet again to change this policy, after similar legislation failed in 2015 and 2016. There are 40,000 students within the South Dakota High School Activities Association, and some of them do identify as transgender. Nearly four years ago, some schools requested a policy to help them address transgender needs when it comes to playing on sports teams.

Here’s what the current policy dictates: all students should have the opportunity to be allowed to participate in activites in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity, no matter the gender listed on a student’s record.

Here’s what the bill aims to change. Sponsors want to void that policy allowing transgender students to request to play on the athletic team that matches their gender identity. The legislation would require a student’s sex be determined by their birth certificate or a High School Activities Association physical exam.

One of the bill’s sponsors, State Senator Jim Bolin, says he wants to keep competition fair, so students do not try to get on a different sports team to have any type of athletic advantage. 

“So those who are chromosomally male, in particular, would not be participating in sports that are designed and have been modified for females,” Bolin said. 

Local and national organizations are already criticizing this bill, calling it discriminatory. Bolin says he doesn’t see it as discrimination. 

“We’ll just have to wait and see how it goes, I believe the Activities Association, I’ve told them this personally, I believe they are a good organization but I believe they made a serious error with the adoption of this policy,” Bolin said. 

SDHSAA Executive Director Dan Swartos says the association is reviewing the bill. He says he hasn’t heard of any student trying to manipulate the system for athletic advantage, and there is a lengthy procedure in place when a transgender student requests to play on a team. 

“The schools are also required to, in the application, to address any potential participation advantages that would occur, because of that or if they have any concerns the student is doing this to gain a competitive advantage,” Swartos said. 

That student needs to have letters from his or her school, family, and friends indicating that student does indeed identify and lives as a certain gender. A medical provider also needs to verify that. 

“It’s a small number of students, but we do have students who are participating with a transgender exemption and are participating as transgender students,” Swartos said. 

Swartos says the bill doesn’t address what the association should do when it comes to transgender students, he also worries it opens up the SDHSAA and schools for discrimination lawsuits. 

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