LGBTQ Advocates: Our Voices Ignored in Transgender Sports Debate

Mike Moen

NORTH DAKOTA -- North Dakota lawmakers have been revising a controversial bill concerning transgender students competing in high school sports.

LGBTQ advocates said sponsors have responded to complaints about the proposal, except from those who fear the most backlash.

House Bill 1298 would prevent public school athletes 18 and younger from joining a team that doesn't match the gender on their birth certificate.

Transgender advocates call the bill discriminatory, while business groups say it could harm tourism.

Truman Hamburger, a student at Dickinson High School and a member of the LGBTQ community, feared legislators are ignoring the concerns of his peers.

"Voting for this bill is tantamount to signing the death warrants for transgender students in North Dakota," Hamburger contended.

He argued sports participation wasn't an issue before the bill surfaced, but worries transgender students will be subject to more bullying because of the attention the plan has received.

Supporters say their main drive is to create fairness in girls' sports.

The bill cleared the House and could get a Senate vote this week. If passed, the amended version would go back to the lower chamber.

Sean Coffman, co-chair of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, noted a number of students have testified in opposition to the bill, and feels pressing ahead with the plan after hearing these voices is a big mistake.

"This is just a vulnerable group of individuals," Coffman asserted. "And for the state of North Dakota to move forward with this kind of legislation is simply going to make them more vulnerable."

He pointed to findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention North Dakota Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which showed trans students are more likely to be bullied on school property.

Other opponents have said such bills can result in costly litigation.

Opposition groups stressed their main focus right now is raising concerns about the measure, but suggested a legal challenge could happen if it is signed into law.

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

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