Montana Friday became the latest state to bar transgender athletes from competing in the school sports designated for their gender identify, as 2021 officially became the worst year ever for enactement of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, quietly signed House Bill 112, the so-called Save Women’s Sports Act, into law two weeks after the latest version had been approved by both houses of the state legislature. Montana Public Radio was the first to break the news after the bill’s status was updated online, but Gianforte has not made any statement about it.
The bill affects sports teams in public schools and state colleges and universities as well as any private school that competes against them. It says teams must be designated for males, females, or a mix of genders, and that “athletic teams or sports designated for females, women, or girls may not be open to students of the male sex,” meaning trans females.
Such legislation is based on the perception that trans females have an inherent and unfair advantage over their cisgender counterparts, something that activists and scientists say is not so. Similar bills have been signed into law this year in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia, and last year in Idaho, where the measure is blocked due to a court challenge. The governor of South Dakota has issued executive orders to the same effect, while the governors of Kansas and North Dakota have vetoed trans-exclusionary sports bills.
Also Friday, Gianforte signed a more generally anti-LGBTQ+ bill into law. Senate Bill 99 states that public school students do not have to attend sex education classes or any class dealing with “human sexuality issues” unless their parents opt them in to the course. It does not define “human sexuality issues,” and the law “could be used to target any curriculum regarding LGBTQ people,” according to a Human Rights Campaign press release.
As of Friday, 2021 had seen a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills signed into law, with 17, HRC reports. The previous record was 15, set in 2015. The 17 includes seven trans-exclusionary sports bills; four religious refusals bills; two setting anti-LGBTQ+ education policy; one banning gender-affirming care for trans minors; one making it more difficult for trans people to change the gender on their birth certificates; one hate-crimes bill that HRC calls a “sham”; and one allowing school-sponsored clubs to discriminate. More than 250 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in state legislatures this year, about half of them specifically anti-trans. Eleven anti-LGBTQ+ bills are on governors’ desks awaiting signature or veto and several more are continuing to move through state legislatures across the country.
“The rights of LGBTQ people — and especially transgender people — across the country are being systematically threatened and undermined by national anti-LGBTQ groups coordinating with anti-equality lawmakers to wage an unprecedented war on the LGBTQ community,” said a statement from HRC President Alphonso David. "In fact, some of these bills are similar to or even worse than anti-LGBTQ legislation that has been rejected in previous years, including the Indiana religious refusal bill of 2015 and North Carolina’s infamous HB 2. Bills that have become law so far this year range from making it a felony to provide transgender youth with lifesaving health care to banning transgender girls from participating in sports to erasing LGBTQ people from school curriculum to granting broad licenses to discriminate against LGBTQ people. This crisis cannot be ignored and necessitates concrete action from all those with the ability to speak out. These bills are not only harmful and discriminatory, but also represent a failure in our democracy and the commitment elected officials make to protect and serve their constituents. Now is not the time for reluctance or passivity, it is time to take urgent action to protect the basic rights and humanity of LGBTQ people in America.”