South Dakota’s anti-transgender sports bill, which appeared to be dead in committee last week, has been revived, passed, and sent to Gov. Kristi Noem, who says she’ll sign it into law.
A Senate committee Wednesday voted down the bill, which would keep trans girls and women out of sports designated for females at the state’s schools. Some senators expressed concerns that it would create a bureaucratic nightmare with gender documentation and lead to court challenges. One Republican senator even questioned the need for such legislation, given the small number of trans athletes.
But backers of the measure voted Monday to open debate on it anyway, and the full Senate ended up passing it by a vote of 20-15, the Grand Forks Herald reports. The South Dakota House had OK’d the bill in February. The legislation’s supporters claimed to be defending and protecting women’s sports, and Noem took the same approach in a tweet shortly after it passed.
A total of 37 anti-trans sports bills have been introduced in states around the country, primarily conservative ones in the Deep South, the Great Plains, and the Mountain West. This rash of legislation has come even though most lawmakers can’t cite a single instance where the participation of trans female athletes has created a problem in their state. The South Dakota High School Activities Association has approved only one trans youth to compete in interscholastic sports over the past decade. The association opposes the bill.
Those supporting bills like these usually refer to trans females as “biological males” who have an inherent and unfair advantage in sports. Opponents point out that many factors other than biology contribute to athletic performance and, for that matter, to gender. They also note that trans young people are already marginalized and at risk for discrimination, depression, and suicide.
“Transgender and nonbinary youth want nothing more than to be loved and respected for who they are,” Sam Brinton vice president of advocacy and government affairs for the Trevor Project, which provides support for LGBTQ+ youth, said in a press release. “Yet rejection and victimization have put these youth at significantly increased risk for suicide. Lawmakers should be expanding support services for trans youth and fostering inclusion in the classroom and on the field, not making life harder than it already is. The Trevor Project urges Governor Noem to take time out of her day to meet with trans youth in South Dakota who would be harmed by this unfair and unnecessary ban.”
Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David also released a statement, saying, “South Dakota more than any other state has leapt to become the face of anti-LGBTQ and specifically anti-transgender discrimination, passing two discriminatory bills in less than a week. This anti-transgender sports ban rejects science and instead stokes baseless fear. Legislators in South Dakota cannot provide examples of problems that have occurred in South Dakota because there simply aren’t any. Transgender athletes participate in sports at every level and have for years, and the problems that proponents of these bills claim will inevitably follow simply do not happen. This legislation is bullying already marginalized transgender kids who are simply trying to navigate their adolescence. Since becoming the first state to pass an anti-transgender bathroom bill through the legislature in 2016, South Dakota has continued to push discriminatory legislation. This year the legislature has already passed two discriminatory bills — all in lieu of any serious attempts to address one of the worst COVID-19 crises in the country as South Dakotans continue to struggle. By committing to sign this bill, Governor Kristi Noem will cause remarkable damage to transgender kids and the state of South Dakota.”
The other discriminatory bill, which is likely to be signed by Noem, is a so-called religious freedom bill that would open the door to discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, single parents, members of minority faiths, and others because they offend someone’s religious sensibilities.
The only state where an anti-trans sports bill has been signed into law is Idaho, and there is it the subject of a court challenge and has been blocked by a federal judge. Along with South Dakota, Mississippi is poised to enact such legislation soon, as both chambers of the legislature have passed it and Gov. Tate Reeves has said he’ll sign it. These states could be setting up a clash with President Joe Biden, who has committed the federal government to stopping anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination.