Barrage of bills affecting trans people heard at ND Legislature

Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 7:27 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Lawmakers in Bismarck heard a barrage of bills relating to transgender people Tuesday.

Seven pieces of legislation were heard Tuesday that affect trans people. Two would prevent trans females from competing in girls’ and women’s sports at the high school and college levels. Then there are two bills that would bar trans students from using bathrooms different from their sex assigned at birth. That’s four. Then the committee heard a bill that would change the rules around conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ people. And finally, there are two bills that would make medical transitions illegal for people under 18.

Some folks in North Dakota have strong feelings about trans people in sports.

“If we don’t do this, women’s athletics, girls’ athletics, will be destroyed,” said Patricia Leno.

People hoping to keep trans people out of women’s sports pointed to Lia Thomas, a trans swimmer who has been successful in the women’s division for the University of Pennsylvania.

“I think after seeing Lia Thomas participate in swimming, we all saw what happens when we don’t segregate the sports between men and women,” said Margo Knorr of South Prairie.

But those opposed say House Bill 1249 and House Bill 1489 are solutions to a problem that doesn’t exist.

“Trans athletes are, in general, quite rare. And transgender athletes dominating elite women’s sports hasn’t materialized, in fact, the Olympics has had trans-inclusive policies since 2004, and no transgender athletes have even qualified,” said Christina Sambor, attorney for the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition.

And some in higher ed are concerned, if these bills pass, there will be unintended consequences.

“The athlete would have solid footing for a complaint with the office of civil rights, the OCR, and further litigation, a proposition that has been backed by a number of court decisions from the past few years,” said Katie Fitzsimmons, director of university affairs for the North Dakota University System.

Then there are House Bill 1473 and House Bill 1522, which require students to use bathrooms that align with their sex at birth. The proponents of these bills say it’s necessary for the safety of all students.

“Students’ perceived sexual orientation or gender identity does not change the school’s obligation to protect all of their students,” said Kimberly Hirst from the Williston area.

Those opposed feel the bills, one of which would require teachers to use the students’ pronouns that align with their sex at birth, are simply bigoted.

“When you take away the ability for teachers to use their proper pronouns, to use the proper pronouns, to make them feel valid, you’re really just telling them that they’re better off dead,” said Caedmon Marx from North Dakota.

Then there’s House Bill 1332, which would take conversion therapy off the list of unethical practices for social workers.

“This bill does not force conversion therapy, despite what everyone’s saying about it, this is not what it does. Instead, what it does is expand healthcare options and it allows individuals who are questioning their identity to speak to a counselor and ask that counselor for the care that they demand and that they believe that they need,” said Representative Brandon Prichard, R-Bismarck.

But several LGBTQ people, social workers, and physicians spoke at length about the dangers of conversion therapy.

“Members of the LGBTQ community who experience conversion therapy practices were twice as likely to think about suicide and to attempt suicide, compared to their peers who hadn’t,” said Allison Traynor, a social worker with Youth Works.

And then there’s House Bill 1254 and House Bill 1301 – bills that would prohibit medical transition procedures for people under 18. At the time of writing, the committee was still hearing testimony.

Speaking of trans bills, this wasn’t all of them. On Monday, House Bill 1333, a bill that would ban children from attending drag shows, passed out of committee by a vote of 10-1-2. And Wednesday, the House Human Services Committee will hear House Bill 1297, a bill that would ban people from changing their gender on their birth records.