BISMARK — A North Dakota legislative panel heard Tuesday on a slew of bills that opponents say discriminate against transgender people, prompting the resurgence of familiar debates around topics like school sports participation.
The House Public Service Committee has scheduled a day of hearings on seven such bills, two of which would limit transgender girls and women’s participation in K-12 and college sports.
Supporters say the proposals ensure fairness for women in sports; opponents say the legislation is discriminatory and harmful to transgender people and would exclude major sporting events in the state.
Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, is sponsoring House Bills 1249 and 1489, similar to the 2021 bill Gov. Doug Burgum vetoed.
But a recent rule change by North Dakota’s high school sports regulator could give Kopelman a head start.
Last year, the executive committee of the North Dakota High School Activities Association revised the rules that apply to transgender students after the NCAA made similar changes to its policies.
The revised policy essentially bans transgender girls who have undergone hormone therapy from participating in women’s sports, but the association’s head may allow transgender students to participate in women’s sports if the school proves through medical evidence that the athlete does not have a physical competitive advantage.
Previous rules allowed transgender girls to play women’s sports after completing a year of hormone therapy.
The association has not taken a position on the proposed legislation.
If lawmakers don’t act, Koppelman said, they “will default to depriving our women of these opportunities and greatly diminish them as society tries to eliminate any reference to biological sex and replace it with social constructs of self-identification.”
“We’re essentially going to allow the panels on the glass ceiling to be reconstructed and reinstalled on women’s heads in the name of feeling rather than science,” he told the House panel.
Patricia Leynor, a former University of North Dakota athlete from Bismarck, told the House committee, “If we don’t do this, women’s athletics, women’s athletics will be destroyed.”
Bismarck psychiatrist Dr. Gabriela Balf diagnoses and treats adolescents with gender dysphoria, which the American Psychiatric Association describes as psychological distress caused by a mismatch between one’s gender identity and one’s assigned sex at birth. She said the state faces more pressing issues than sports, such as mental health and child abuse.
“For some reason, we’re not talking about this. We’re talking about zero cases of transgender athletes in North Dakota,” she told lawmakers. “I urge you to be thoughtful when voting for these transgender bills you come across.”
Mia Halvorson of Fargo, who identifies as transgender, told the panel she heard from lawmakers in 2021 that “transgenderness is ‘an emerging trend,’ After today, in our state, I have yet to see this “coming trend. “
“We don’t have transgender athletes ‘dominating women’s sport’ in our state, and yet again we’re putting a pointless bill on the table. It doesn’t do any individual person in our state of North Dakota any favors,” she said.
Nineteen states, including South Dakota and Montana, have passed laws restricting transgender students from participating in sports, according to the Associated Press.
Last week, Robin Weisz, the committee chairman from Herzfeld, said his priority on Tuesday was to prevent the heated hearing from devolving into disparaging or threatening remarks.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time. You have to realize that both sides are passionate; they believe in where they stand,” Weisz said. “You have to maintain control of the committee, but both sides should make their own statements.”
The hearing on the sports bill packed one of the largest committee rooms in the Capitol, but proceeded in an orderly manner.
The Republican-led panel also held hearings on Tuesday on a bill that would ban gender-affirming treatment and surgery on minors and limit bathroom access for transgender students and prisoners.
The committee will ultimately consider the merits of each proposal. Weisz declined to comment on the content of the bill. In 2021, the longtime MP voted in favor of a bill that would limit transgender girls’ participation in women’s sports.
Weisz said on Friday that the chamber’s gender-related proposals were redundant and that he would prefer to consolidate similar ideas into “several bills” for efficiency.
However, Weisz noted that he opposes combining bills that address different issues, such as transgender girls in sports and gender-affirming treatment.
Weisz said it was “highly unlikely” the committee would vote on any gender legislation this week.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear Senate Bill 2231, sponsored by Sen. Larry Luke (R-Fairmount), on Wednesday.
The bill would make it a discriminatory practice for government entities to require employees to use someone’s “preferred pronoun” unless required by law. It would also prohibit school policy, instruction and professional development regarding “expressed gender” or “gender identity, whether expressed through behavior, clothing, mannerisms, preferred pronouns or physical characteristics that do not conform to the student’s gender.”
A Senate panel tackles the sports bill Burgum vetoed in 2021. Chairwoman Diane Larson (R-Bismarck) said she supports treating such legislation as a matter of fairness and responding aggressively to what she’s seeing in other states. She said the college athletics bill might not pass like the K-12 athletics bill because “in college, you have more choices about whether you’re going to play sports at one college than another Participate in sports.”
Opponents of 2021 say the sports bill discriminates against transgender girls and excludes sports tourism. “It’s not about individuals, it’s about fairness in sport,” Larson said.
She added that she was not in favor of “legislating pronouns, but some people think we should, so we’ll listen.”
“It’s hard to have some of these conversations because people are so emotionally involved,” Larson said.
On Friday, the Senate defeated a bill that would ban transgender residents from using pronouns consistent with their gender identity in schools and other publicly funded entities.
House Majority Leader Mike Love (R-Dickinson) has said that “we all have a responsibility to better understand what transgender people go through,” but he has also expressed support for lawmakers’ proposed “potentially controversial” bill , and if “public policy needs to be adjusted in some way”. He said he supported the Transgender Sports Act of 2021 “simply because I don’t think, in my opinion, biologically males should be able to compete with females.”
“I have no problem addressing this in legislation, so there are (a) clear and concise statutes,” Lefor said.
House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, said he plans to ask the bill’s sponsors during the debate if they have interacted with trans people or their families to understand their needs.
“There are tens of thousands of transgender or nonbinary people in our state,” he said. “You may not know them because they live full, authentic lives, so my colleagues’ obsession with gender identity and sexuality is disturbing.”
He said he was “frightened” that some bills would pass, which he saw as an “organized effort” across state lines.
Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki declined to comment on gender-related legislation.
In a message vetoing his 2021 bill to limit transgender girls’ participation in sports, the Republican governor wrote that the legislation would “unnecessarily involve the state in local question”.
Jack Dura is a reporter for the Bismarck Tribune. Jeremy Turley is a reporter for the Forum News Service.