BISMARCK — Members of a Senate committee heard hours-long testimony from those for and against a bill that would effectively limit transgender athlete participation in North Dakota.
A hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, March 16 dealt with House Bill 1298, which would prevent athletes under age 18 from participating in sports under any sex other than the one listed on their birth certificate.
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It would also ban publicly owned facilities from hosting events in which transgender athletes might participate.
However, prior to the hearing, bill sponsor Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, offered up amendments that would permit a facility to be rented or leased for such events and allow sponsorship of them by local destination marketing organizations, like the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Some of those speaking against it framed their arguments in terms of harm to an already vulnerable transgender population.
Legislative Coordinator for the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition Brandi Hardy said the bill singles out a group of kids already targeted with bullying, rejection and violence.
“This will lead to higher rates of self harm and suicide, which is already significantly higher amongst LGBTQ youth,” Hardy said.
Dr. Kathy Anderson, a Bismarck pediatrician and president of the North Dakota American Academy of Pediatrics, said the bill is grounded in antiquated concepts and outdated science.
“We need to join together to create an environment that nurtures the development of all children, not the fears of some adults,” she said.
Many of those testifying in favor of the bill framed it as a measure to protect the integrity of girls' and women's sports.
In their support of the bill, several invoked Title IX, the federal civil rights law passed in 1972 prohibiting sex-based discrimination in any school or other education program that receives federal money.
Koppelman said if the bill doesn’t pass, opportunities for women will be greatly reduced, as society tries to replace biological sex references with the social construct of self-identification.
“We will, in essence, be allowing the panels of the glass ceiling to be reconstructed and installed over the heads of our women in the name of feelings, rather than science,” Koppelman said.
Rep. Kathy Skroch, R-Lidgerwood, said the bill is about keeping a level playing field for girls.
Her youngest daughter got a free ride in college by competing in track, she said.
“If she competed against boys, she would have never gotten a scholarship because of the biological difference,” Skroch said.
Rep. Scott Louser, R-Minot, said the debate is happening because an “ultra minority” of people have “demanded to be accommodated.”
When others try to put in place practical solutions, he said, they’re criticized as being out of touch, insensitive, bigoted, homophobic or even racist.
“That’s something society is just falling back on now,” Louser said.
Beth Stelzer, a Minnesota powerlifter and founder of the nonpartisan coalition Save Women’s Sports, said male participation in female sports is a growing problem across the world.
“We should not wait idly until a female in North Dakota is seriously injured or until all of their records are gone, to do something,” Stelzer said.
In speaking out against the bill, multiple people said financial harm will come to the state by making it more difficult, even impossible, for sports organizations to host events in which a transgender athlete might participate.
Katie Fitzsimmons, director of Student Affairs for the North Dakota University System, said teams including UND hockey and NDSU football risk losing major tournaments because of it.
“That would be a truly unfortunate circumstance for all the athletes, coaches, communities and fans,” said Fitzsimmons.
Missing out on tournaments would translate into big financial losses for individual communities and the state.
Charley Johnson, president and CEO of the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau, called the bill “anti-business.”
“Passage of this bill will have a negative, perhaps devastatingly negative effect, on the economy of cities in the state that work hard to fill hotels, restaurants and retail stores, with teams and their families," Johnson said.
John Ward, representing the American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota, warned of underlying legal problems and high costs of litigation.
He said North Dakota should look to Idaho, where a federal court last summer blocked a similar ban on transgender women and girls participating in women’s sports.
No part of the Idaho law is in effect due to this litigation, Ward said.
The Chamber of Fargo Moorhead West Fargo also opposed the bill by issuing a statement Tuesday, highlighting a "detrimental economic impact" it would have on the state.