Being a lawmaker is tough duty these days.
You can be subjected to all kinds of name-calling, but if you’re lucky, you won’t be threatened with actual physical harm.
Jim Bolin, a state senator from Canton, probably didn’t have a good feel for the nature of rough-and-tumble politics when he was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2008.
He does now.
In one of the more courageous acts I’ve seen in Pierre, Bolin this session introduced SB 49, which would have voided the transgender policy now in force by the South Dakota Activities Association and replaced it with this:
“The sole determinant of a student’s sexual identity is the sexual identity noted on the student’s certificate of birth.”
Bolin knew the bill would be controversial, but he believed the SDAA policy’s lack of fairness left him no choice.
The policy allows transgender students to participate in sports they identify with, such as a boy identifying as a girl running in girls’ track or cross-country. The SDAA contends that its policy prevents unfairness in part because it states a student can’t change his or her identity in order to gain an unfair competitive advantage. But in some cases, this could not be known in advance. And after the approval is given, it lasts for the student’s duration in school.
Bolin’s bill failed in committee but not before he was subjected to the worst kind of name-calling.
“I was called a hater and a bigot, and a despicable person and all kinds of things,” he told me when I contacted him.
I can’t believe that anyone who actually knows Jim would use those labels. He was a career educator and an athletic director for 11 years. His sole concern was fairness in sports.
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However, gender identity is such an emotionally-charged issue that potential supporters of Bolin’s bill ran for cover.
“I was contacted by more than one person who would have liked to come forward but who were absolutely terrified by the prospect,” he said.
After Bolin’s bill died, a similar bill advanced by Rep. Lee Qualm met the same fate in the House on a 34-34 vote.
Ironically, while this was going on in Pierre, Martina Navratilova, one of the top two or three tennis players of all time, wrote that transgender athletes should not be allowed to compete against biologically female athletes because of their innate physical advantage over biologically female athletes.
“Letting men compete as women simply if they change their name and take hormones is unfair,” she wrote.
And in another sport, a bronze medalist who lost a world championship cycling race in 2018 to a transgender woman has challenged the results as unfair. The policy on transgender athletes now is being examined by USA Cycling.
The business community, as represented by the South Dakota Retailers and the state chamber of commerce, lobbied hard against Bolin’s bill. They didn’t want the negative publicity that surely would follow if Bolin’s bill became law.
It’s not known if the issue will come up next session. For his part, Bolin is perplexed by a state that provides seven different classes of football competition to ensure fairness to all sizes of schools, but won’t guarantee fairness to athletes based on their biological sex.
For now, the SDAA is standing firm on its flawed policy. But wait until a transgender athlete — probably a boy identifying as a girl — wins or places in an event and causes a female athlete to lose a top 20 finish or even a scholarship.
Will fairness prevail then?