Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has signed a bill restricting transgender students’ participation in school sports, the first anti-trans bill to be signed into law this year, and he’s blaming President Joe Biden for it.
“But for the fact that President Biden as one of his first initiatives sat down and signed an executive order — which, in my opinion, encourages transgenderism amongst our young people — but for that fact, we wouldn’t be here today,” Reeves, a Republican, said Thursday in a signing ceremony at the Mississippi Capitol. The law takes effect July 1.
Senate Bill 2536, the so-called Mississippi Fairness Act, requires that sports teams be designated as male, female, or coed, with female teams “not open to students of the male sex,” as established by the student’s “internal and external reproductive anatomy,” “normal endogenously produced levels of testosterone,” and “genetic makeup,” as stated in the measure’s text. That excludes trans girls and women. It was passed by the Mississippi Senate in February and the House this month.
A similar bill has been passed by both houses of the legislature in South Dakota, and Republican Gov. Kristi Noem plans to sign it. There has been a spate of anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced around the nation in this legislative session — 147 so far, according to the Human Rights Campaign’s latest count. Of those, 73 specifically target transgender people, and about half of those would, like SB 2536, bar trans athletes from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity. Many others seek to deny gender-confirming medical care to trans minors. In Arkansas, the Senate Wednesday approved an anti-trans sports bill and the House a bill denying care, making those the latest to advance in state legislatures.
Backers of the anti-trans sports bills claim that they’re trying to “protect” cisgender girls and women from having to compete with trans females (usually referred to as “biological males”), who they contend have an inherent and unfair advantage in athletics. Opponents say this is not so and point out that many factors besides biology can affect a cis or trans athlete’s performance. Hormone therapy eliminates any competitive advantage for trans females, HRC adds, and transitioning in order to play on a girls’ or women’s team would be impractical, to say the least.
The bills also are a solution in search of a problem, civil rights groups say. When the Associated Press surveyed state lawmakers who’ve introduced such bills, almost no one could cite an instance where the participation of trans athletes had caused a problem in their state. Some mentioned the two trans girls who had won several sprinting championships in Connecticut. “It’s their Exhibit A, and there’s no Exhibit B — absolutely none,” Shannon Minter, legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told the AP. And in any case, there is no widespread dominance of trans athletes in girls’ and women’s sports.
No supporter of the Mississippi legislation could provide an example, but one of them, Sen. Angela Hill, called trans participation “an imminent problem,” the AP reports. “The coaches have told me that this is an imminent problem in Mississippi, and that’s basically all the details that they were willing to give me,” she said Thursday in response to reporters’ questions. “I can’t tell you that they don’t know any examples. I believe they do know examples. I think that they wanted to leave it in general terms. But they told me that this is an urgent matter.”
Many of the bills are supported by or have even been written by far-right, anti-LGBTQ+ groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF lawyer Christiana Holcomb released a statement Thursday praising Mississippi’s action. “Comparably fit and trained males will always have physical advantages over females — that’s the reason we have girls’ sports,” she said. “When we ignore science and biological reality, female athletes lose medals, podium spots, public recognition, and opportunities to compete.”
Such legislation has been condemned by major corporations, child welfare groups, and medical experts. As for Biden’s executive order, issued the day he took office, it does not push anyone to identify as trans. It does commit the federal government to fight anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in every aspect of American life, including education.
Civil rights groups denounced Mississippi’s move and predicted a court challenge, as has been the case in Idaho, so far the only state where a bill like this has become law. A federal judge has blocked the Idaho law from being enforced while the suit proceeds. Activists also pointed out how harmful these laws are to trans youth and said states enacting them will face economic backlash.
“Governor Reeves’ eagerness to become the face of the latest anti-transgender push is appalling, as he chooses fear and division over facts and science,” HRC President Alphonso David said in a press release. “This law is a solution in search of a problem, and legislators in Mississippi have not provided any examples of Missisippi transgender athletes gaming the system for a competitive advantage because none exist. While transgender athletes have been competing at every level for years without incident, Governor Reeves is signing this bill while Missisippians continue to suffer and real issues go unaddressed. Bullying transgender kids is no way to govern the state out of the crises they face. While he claims this bill is necessary pushback against the Biden Administration, he is ignoring the fact that 35 anti-transgender sports bills were introduced during the Trump presidency last year, including in Mississippi. Like previous iterations of the same anti-equality fight, this law is bound to face scrutiny, legal challenges, and ultimately hurt the state’s reputation. Transgender kids deserve better and so does Mississippi.”
“This bill will hurt Mississippi’s economy, but most upsetting, it will hurt transgender youth in Mississippi,” added Chase Strangio, deputy director for trans justice with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “We call on the Biden administration to ensure our federal civil rights laws are fully enforced — including those that protect transgender youth from discrimination in schools. Other states should know that passing a bill like this will come with real consequences. Just like it was never about restrooms, this bill is not about sports. It's about pushing trans people out of public life. This investment in targeting trans kids and scrutinizing the bodies of women and girl athletes will also harm all young people in sport and create barriers to participation in activities that are invaluable to the health and well-being of our youth.”
“The Trevor Project is here 24/7 to support transgender and nonbinary youth in Mississippi and across the country who feel attacked and hurt by these incredibly misguided policies,” said a statement from Sam Brinton, vice president of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project. “Let’s be clear — discrimination on the basis of gender identity is illegal. We will continue to partner with the broad coalition fighting these bills in every statehouse and court necessary to ensure that trans youth everywhere have access to the same opportunities as everyone else.”