A coalition of House and Senate Republicans want to ban transgender students from participating in girls’ sports and would require student athletes to use the bathrooms, locker rooms and changing rooms appropriate to their birth gender.
The Student Safety and Physical Privacy Act, if passed, would override a December ruling by the Minnesota State High School League that allows students who were born male, but who identify as female, to be eligible for girls’ teams at the nearly 500 schools in the League’s membership. State law already permits girls to compete in boys’ sports, although they use girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms.
The league’s approval of the policy was punctuated by months of emotional debate and tens of thousands of e-mails sent to board members. The league’s board overwhelmingly approved a policy that would allow individual schools to determine eligibility, with consideration for whether the student expresses “a consistent or sincerely held gender-related identity.”
Monday’s bill, sponsored by eight senators and 17 representatives, was written in response to the league’s policy move.
The bill’s lead House author, Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, said the league decision triggered an outpouring of concern from his constituents. He said the policy was so wide-ranging, it should be under the purview of the Legislature, not the high school league.
“I do as a matter of fact think it’s the responsibility of the Legislature to determine these things,” Miller said. “We fund public education here in the state of Minnesota and I believe that because of that, we have a responsibility for the safety and physical privacy of students that attend our schools.”
Miller, a former coach, said it’s important that the bill receive a hearing this legislative session, before the new rules take effect this fall.
‘Time to move on’
Senate Education Committee Chairman Chuck Wiger, DFL-North St. Paul, said he would be reluctant to schedule a hearing for the bill.
“I would hear both sides, but I believe the High School League has addressed it,” Wiger said. “To me it’s time to move on.”
Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, who leads the House Education Innovation Policy Committee, did not immediately respond to an inquiry whether her committee would take up the bill.
Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said the issue involves not just athlete safety and privacy, but competitive fairness in girls’ sports.
“When I was in high school, women’s athletics were just getting started, and we have since made tremendous strides. This is something that could potentially be harmful to that, and there is, of course, the privacy issue,” said Thompson, a co-author on the bill. “I think all parents in our state would make sure that their children are comfortable and protected in intimate settings, which athletic fields and facilities and locker rooms are. We’re clarifying something I believe a vast majority of Minnesotans would support.”
Although earlier drafts of the high school league policy would have allowed transgender athletes to use the locker rooms of the gender with which they identified — a policy consistent with NCAA rules — that provision was later removed from the proposed policy before it was approved.
Despite the absence of any DFL sponsors, Thompson said he doesn’t view the legislation as partisan.
“I’d be shocked if there aren’t members on both sides of the aisle in both bodies that support this, because I think most parents would support it,” he said.
Sending the wrong message
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, was the lead author of the Safe Schools Act, an antibullying bill passed last session that tightened the state’s bullying laws and extended protections to transgender students, among others. Dibble said he plans to stand up against Monday’s proposed legislation, whether or not it gains traction.
“I’m not concerned whether it will move and pass, because I don’t think it’s going to,” Dibble said. “But what concerns me is you’ve got a bill like this introduced by officials with the state of Minnesota, responsible adults, and it sends a highly negative message. It fans the flames of hysteria and gives young transgender people and their families a negative message of who they are. That’s a really big problem.”
Lead Senate author David Brown, R-Becker, said that if the Legislature has the power to pass a statewide antibullying code in schools, it should be able to do the same for policy regarding transgender athletes, and that the current standards could be treacherous.
“I think we’re inviting a lot of trauma,” he said. “This protects all of our students.”