Media Contact

Janna Farley,

January 14, 2019

The ACLU of South Dakota opposes Senate Bill 49, a bill that would declare void the procedure adopted by the South Dakota High School Activities Association to ensure that transgender student athletes can participate in high school sports and would instead restrict participation in athletic activities to the gender listed on a person’s birth certificate.

Currently, transgender high school students wishing to compete in high school activities may do so, provided they follow the policy articulated by the South Dakota High School Activities Association. Senate Bill 49 would eliminate this policy and the oversight of the SDHSAA, preventing transgender students from participating in athletics simply because of who they are. The bill is another effort to codify discrimination against transgender youth under state law and undermine the authority of the SDHSAA to ensure equitable and fair participation in high school activities.

Libby Skarin, policy director of the ACLU of South Dakota, released the following statement:

“This is yet another attempt to single transgender students out for discrimination in our state. And like the many bathroom bills before it, this bill would hurt transgender students, violate federal law and expose our state to legal liability. The policy that this bill seeks to undo has been in place since 2015 without any problems.  All that existing policy does is allow fair and equitable participation in high school activities by all South Dakota high school students. But this bill, like its predecessor bills, seeks to erode that fairness and is just a solution in search of a problem.

“Barring transgender students from the benefits of athletics holds them back from living authentic and fulfilling lives. Participation in athletic activities has a widespread positive impact on the social, physical and emotional well-being of students and provides kids with lessons about self-discipline, teamwork, perseverance, success and failure. They bring excitement, joy and a sense of belonging – a sense that is important for all kids, but particularly vital for kids who may already feel like outcasts.

“All young people should have the opportunity to play high school sports and have their personal dignity respected. Transgender students are no different. No one is harmed by allowing transgender people to compete consistent with who they are.”

The SDHSAA policy now in place puts South Dakota in line with at least two dozen other states with inclusive policies for transgender students at some or all high schools, including Minnesota, Colorado and Wyoming. If Senate Bill 49 passes, South Dakota would be the first and only state in which the state legislature intervened to override a policy put in place by the association that knows high school activities the best. 

About the ACLU of South Dakota

Decisions made during the annual sessions of the South Dakota Legislature have a deep and lasting impact on our state’s people and communities. As new laws are created and others repealed or written, it’s important to ensure that these changes preserve and strengthen our constitutional rights. For up-to-date information on the bills the ACLU of South Dakota is tracking, go to

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota is a non-partisan organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. The ACLU believes freedoms of press, speech, assembly, and religion, and the rights to due process, equal protection, and privacy are fundamental to a free people. In addition, the ACLU seeks to advance constitutional protections for groups traditionally denied their rights, including people of color, women, and the LGBT communities. The ACLU of South Dakota carries out its work through selective litigation, lobbying at the state and local level, and through public education and awareness of what the Bill of Rights means for people of South Dakota.