South Dakota governor’s chief of staff compares transgender athletes competing to “terrorism”

Kristi Noem – Photo: Gage Skidmore.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s interim chief of staff compared banning transgender girls from participating in women’s sports to thwarting terrorism.

Mark Miller, Noem’s interim chief of staff and legal counsel, testified before the South Dakota House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday in favor of a bill that seeks to bar athletes at the elementary, secondary, and collegiate levels from competing on sports teams that do not match their assigned sex at birth. The bill would allow cis female athletes who believe they’ve been denied opportunities to excel in sports by being forced to compete against transgender females to sue school officials who allow transgender athletes to compete. 

Miller told lawmakers on the panel that even though there has been only one instance of a transgender female athlete competing in girls’ sports in the past decade, the bill is intended to be preventative.

“It’s sort of like terrorism. You see it over there, and don’t want it to get to here,” Miller said, referring to other states where transgender female athletes have enjoyed success.

Miller pointed to University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, who is transgender, as an example of what will happen if the bill does not pass, claiming that allowing trans competitors in women’s sports violates the spirit of Title IX, the law meant to prohibit sex-based discrimination in educational settings. Thomas has recently garnered headlines — and controversy — for breaking Ivy League swimming records, with some comparing the physical advantage she enjoys, having gone through male puberty as a teenager, as akin to the advantage enjoyed by athletes who dope.

The committee, stacked 8-2 in favor of Republicans, eventually voted to pass the measure along party lines, sending the bill to the floor of the full House for debate and eventual passage, reports the Mitchell Republic.

Miller’s comments prompted outrage from Democrats, with House Minority Leader Jamie Smith (D-Sioux Falls) saying he was “appalled” by the comments.

“When he talked about likening this movement to terrorism, that absolutely was uncalled for,” Smith said, according to Dakota Radio Group News. “There should be a full apology made to all people in the state of South Dakota, but especially transgender persons. [It’s] unacceptable.”

When asked about whether Miller’s comments reflected her administration’s official views on transgender people, Noem sidestepped the question, but defended her chief of staff, saying: “Well, no, and that’s not Mark’s heart.”

“I want you to know that this issue on girls playing only in girls’ sports is just a fairness issue. It’s about Title IX and defending an opportunity to have a level playing field for our girls to compete. We want our girls to be able to have a chance to be successful, go on to college, have the chance to earn scholarships, and play professional sports, if they would like to,” Noem said.

“There are many different activities and competitions in the state where biological sex doesn’t matter, debate, academics, things of that nature,” she added. “But when it comes to sporting events where it’s an athletic competition, it does make a difference because the biology is different. And that’s why in South Dakota, this bill is being brought forward.”

But one of the witnesses who testified against the bill, Hoera Kingi, a transgender former high school cheerleader from Rapid City, South Dakota, lamented the opportunities that the bill will deny to transgender athletes.

“Not being able to participate would’ve been devastating to me,” Kingi said of her time as a cheerleader. “It would’ve stopped me from meeting my favorite people and [making] my most cherished memories.”

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