On Friday morning, Sen. Sean Nienow, a Republican from Cambridge, attempted to insert a bill that would repeal transgender-inclusive policies in Minnesota schools into a larger education omnibus package during a session of the Senate Education Committee. The bill is one being touted by anti-LGBT groups, the Minnesota Child Protection League and the Minnesota Family Council. The bill is a reaction to recent policies enacted in the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts that increases safety and inclusion for transgender and gender nonconforming students. It is also a reaction to an appeals process put in place by the Minnesota State High School League that allows transgenders student to play on athletics teams based on their gender.
Sen. Nienow introduced the bill, authored by Sen. David Brown, a Republican from Becker, as an amendment saying, “According to Sen. Brown, he isn’t going to get a hearing on this so I don’t him I would offer up the language.”
Sen. Chuck Wiger, a DFLer from Maplewood who serves as chair of the committee, took issue with Nienow’s assessment.
“Just for the record, this was introduced just days before deadline. I spoke with him about it, and he understood that so it wasn’t an attempt to not hear it,
we have been hearing nearly everything that has come through the committee.”
Nienow said he didn’t mean to insinuate that the committee was blocking the bill, and quipped, “Thank you for making sure we are all being straight here, no pun intended.”
He added, “This is a fairly straightforward policy: Let’s keep the boys playing on the boys teams and keep the boys in the boys locker room and not the girls locker room.”
The committee heard from Roger Aronson who serves as legal counsel to the Minnesota State High School league.
He clarified that the MSHSL transgender-inclusive policy is not actually a policy, but instead an appeals process for transgender students when schools deny them the opportunity to play sports. He also said that nondiscrimination in high school sports is spelled out in Minnesota and federal law.
“We actually think that issue is well settled by the Minnesota Human Rights Act and Title IX, he said. “Gender identity is recognized as a protected class under under statute 363 and is an emerging protected class under Title IX from discussions we’ve had with the [Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Justice].”
He said the MSHSL, in order to develop the transgender appeals process, heard six hours of testimony from more than forty witnesses, consulted with the Minnesota Dept. of Education, consulted with the Dept. of Justice in both Chicago and Washington, consulted with the superintendents association, worked with school principals, and many other stakeholders.
“The amendment, we think as it’s structured here would take us out of compliance with Chapter 363 to the extent that it related to the league and
out of compliance with Title IX.”
Aronson said that some legislators are misinformed about transgender issues. “What the bill says is the things you look at are chromosomes and anatomy… but it’s a much more complex issue than that.”
He added that if Minnesota doesn’t provide inclusive policies for transgender students, it could open up school districts to lawsuit, noting a recent case in Delaware that cost a school district $75,000.
Sen. Alice Johnson, a DFLer from Blaine who was filling in as committee chair on Friday, asked Sen. Nienow if he wanted to withdraw his amendment, but Nienow was not swayed.
“I think this is an important issue. I think the Legislature needs to address this… Maybe we could tweak a word here or there. this should happen. I mean everyone here that is the same sex as me can remember when they were a 16-year-old boy and we don’t want to mix those locker rooms and i think this unfair to start mixing those sports. And I would agree…the numbers [of transgender students] are very, very low but the fact of the matter is it only takes one to be a potential problem.
The committee voted and Nienow’s amendment was defeated, with 7 in favor and 11 against. DFLers were joined by Sen. Eric Pratt, a Republican from Prior Lake in voting against the amendment. All other Republicans voted for it.
The roll call was as follows:
Voting No: Wiger, Bonoff, Clausen, Dahle, Jensen, Johnson, Kent, Pratt, Saxhaug, Stumpf, and Wiklund
Voting Yes: Chamberlain, Dahms, Housley, Kiffmeyer, Nienow, Peterson, and Weber
Absent: Hoffman and Torres Ray