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SD, Minn. high school leagues drafting transgender policies

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SD, Minn. high school leagues drafting transgender policies
Perham Minnesota 222 2nd Avenue SE 56573

FARGO – The South Dakota High School Activities Association is considering a proposal that would allow transgender students to participate in extra-curricular activities according to their self-identified gender rather than the gender listed on their records.

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Meanwhile, the Minnesota State High School League is about to begin the same discussion.

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

Transgender is a term for a person who does not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth.

A transgender extra-curricular policy, for instance, could mean that a boy could play girls basketball or girls volleyball if self-identifying as a girl.

The North Dakota High School Activities Association has no transgender policy in its constitution and bylaws.

“We have not discussed it at the board level, but I know, nationally, there are a number of states who have or are working on developing a transgender policy,” said NDHSAA board president and Fargo Public Schools Activities Director Todd Olson. “I would assume at some point in the not-too-distant future that will become an issue discussed by our association also.”

Olson said that a seminar titled “Developing a Transgender Policy for Student Eligibility” is on a list of recommended sessions for state association board members attending the National Federation of State High School Associations’ national convention scheduled for July in Boston.

No legal action spurred the proposed SDHSAA transgender policy.

“We had a student move into our state about a year and a half to two years ago who was a transgendered student and they had interest in participating in interscholastic activities, and we had no policy in place whatsoever,” said SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director James Weaver.

“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.”

Weaver said the policy proposed at its Tuesday board meeting was in its first reading and had undergone several drafts prior to that.

A second reading of the policy will be presented at the board’s next meeting in June and at that time members will have the option to discuss the policy further and put it up for a vote of adoption.

“We are still trying to figure out what is going to fit our state the best,” Weaver said.

The policy has been influenced by several existing state policies, case law and transgender advocates.

Weaver, who has been part of the effort to research and develop the policy over the past year, said it is possible the board could decide it wants to see something else in the policy and that an additional reading could be pushed to August.

The main issue in the SDHSAA proposal has to do with how these requests will be determined. Students must seek designations for genuine reasons and not to gain an unfair competitive advantage.

The proposed policy calls for a gender identification committee of experts that will review student applications for transgender status. The committee’s ruling will be final throughout the student’s high school career.

“We are not sure we are comfortable making a determination on gender-specific issues because none of us in the office are gender experts,” Weaver said.

The law firm Kelly & Lemmons of the Twin Cities is drafting the policy for the MSHSL. The law firm did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The MSHSL board of directors has yet to see the wording of the policy because it is still in the draft process.

According to Voigt, there was nothing that occurred in Minnesota to trigger a transgender policy.

“A number of other state associations were either considering it or had already adopted some kind of policy, so we just wanted to be as proactive as possible,” Voigt said. “There was nothing within our state which precipitated it. It’s just more an effort to try and be proactive because it’s an issue other organizations are dealing with at a higher level.”

The Forum's Tom Mix contributed to this story.

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Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy is the Minnesota preps and Fargo Force beat reporter for the Forum. He's covered high school sports in Chicago, North Dakota and Minnesota for the last five years and, for some reason, has been given awards for doing so. If reading him in the paper and online isn't enough, you can read more of him at the Forum Preps Blog: http://forumpreps.areavoices.com/  
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