South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has released a national ad promoting the transgender-exclusionary sports bill that's just been introduced in the state.
Noem, a Republican, nixed such legislation last year, fearing reprisal by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, but she issued executive orders decreeing that "only females, based on their biological sex, as reflected on their birth certificate or affidavit provided upon initial enrollment," may participate in girls' or women's sports. One dealt with K-12 public schools, and the other affected public colleges and universities.
Now she's backing a bill that would write the language of the executive orders into law. The South Dakota Senate's State Affairs Committee approved the bill Friday, advancing it to the full Senate.
The ad, which debuted Thursday during prime-time news programs around the nation, doesn't use the words "transgender" or "trans," instead saying Noem wants to protect girls' and women's sports. It begins, "In South Dakota, only girls play girls' sports. Why? Because of Gov. Kristi Noem's leadership. Noem has been protecting girls' sports for years and never backed down."
Announcing the ad on Twitter, she wrote that her bill "will give South Dakota the strongest law protecting female sports in the nation."
LGBTQ+ advocates have long objected to the "protection" characterization, saying it casts girls and women as weak, and disputed the idea that trans females have an inherent and unfair advantage over cisgender ones. Many scientists dispute this as well.
There is no widespread domination of girls' and women's sports by trans females, and in most of the states that have considered or passed trans-exclusionary sports bills, politicians couldn't name a single instance of trans participation causing a problem in their state.
Activists quickly denounced Noem's ad and the legislation itself. "This ad is not just discriminatory, it erases transgender people and dehumanizes them, putting a target on the back of an already vulnerable community," said a statement from Joni Madison, interim president of the Human Rights Campaign. "Doing so on a national stage -- in a brazen attempt to score political points with her base -- makes these attacks especially egregious. In fact, it's South Dakota's women and girls that Governor Noem is attacking. Prohibiting transgender girls from participating in school athletics alongside their peers is a radical political talking point -- one that Noem is using to advance her national political ambitions, but which does not serve South Dakota's best interests. At stake is the safety of transgender young people, who are facing increased discrimination in their communities, last year leading to the highest incidence of fatal violence against transgender and gender-nonbinary people on record. Noem's ad resorts to attacking children in service of a divisive and discriminatory political agenda. Every child deserves to be lifted up and supported by their leaders and their government, not targeted and dehumanized. Legislators must reject this divisive bill to avoid tarnishing South Dakota's reputation and hurting kids in service of Governor Noem's selfish political gamesmanship."
"Fairness should never mean exclusion. We can promote girls' sports and transgender inclusion at the same time. Blanket bans that block transgender students from participating in school sports remain unfair and unnecessary," Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, said in a press release. "A recent poll by the Trevor Project found that 85 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth said recent debates around anti-trans bills have negatively impacted their mental health -- and nearly 1 in 3 feels scared."
"I am certain that Governor Noem would much rather talk about this issue than her pandemic response," Gillian Branstetter, media manager for the National Women's Law Center, told NBC News. "We have significantly larger problems, for example, problems that exist! Those would be good problems to solve as opposed to conjuring fictional ghosts of a changing society and attempting to exploit people's ignorance."
Nine states have enacted laws barring trans students from competing in school sports under their gender identity: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. Idaho adopted its law in 2020, the others last year. The Idaho and West Virginia laws have been blocked by courts. Legislation to this effect has been vetoed by the governors of Kansas, Louisiana, and North Dakota. A new rash of such legislation is emerging in various states in this year's session.