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South Dakota Governor Signs Anti-Trans Sports Bill Into Law

Kristi Noem
Via Shutterstock

Gov. Kristi Noem's action makes the state the first to enact an anti-trans law this year.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has signed a transgender-exclusionary sports bill into law, making the state the first one to enact an anti-trans law in 2022.

Noem signed the bill at a brief ceremony Thursday, Sioux Falls TV station KELO reports. The state's House of Representatives had passed it Tuesday, following earlier approval by the Senate.

The legislation, Senate Bill 46, states that "only female athletes, based on their biological sex, may participate in any team, sport, or athletic event designated as being for females, women, or girls." "Biological sex" is defined at the sex on a person's birth certificate, issued at or near the time of birth, so the measure bars trans females from girls' and women's teams, both in K-12 schools and public colleges and universities. It does not keep trans boys and men off male teams.

Noem, a Republican, had vetoed similar legislation last year because, she said, she feared reprisal by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which allows trans women to compete alongside cisgender women if they meet certain requirements. She brought up the possibility of economic boycotts as well. So she issued executives orders limiting trans participation instead, one for K-12 schools and another for higher education. She got behind the latest legislation, however.

"During a news conference following the signing ceremony, Noem was asked how she could support a ban on transgender girls in female sports when she has said she has friends and family who are transgender; she responded that the law was about fairness," KELO reports.

Indeed, backers of such bans usually say they're about fairness to cisgender women, claiming that trans women have an inherent and unfair advantage over cisgender women, but both scientists and activists dispute this. Also, there is no widespread domination of women's sports by trans women. Most of the lawmakers behind these bills haven't been able to name a single instance in which a trans woman's participation in women's sports have caused a problem in their state. And such legislation further marginalizes trans youth, a population already subject to much discrimination and harassment.

LGBTQ+ groups were quick to condemn Noem's action. "At a time when young people are facing an unprecedented need for support, it is devastating to see politicians instead invent new ways to exclude them," Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, said in a press release. "We want to remind every young trans person watching tonight that there are more people fighting for you than against you. We have your back, and we will continue working with our partners and advocates on the ground to challenge these laws and ensure that all youth have the support they need to survive and thrive."

The release cited a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of the Trevor Project, which found that 85 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth and 66 percent of all LGBTQ+ youth "say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health."

The Trevor Project's 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 52 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, and one in five attempted suicide. However, research also shows that transgender and nonbinary youth who have access to gender-affirming spaces report lower rates of attempting suicide.

The Human Rights Campaign denounced the legislation as well. "Instead of focusing on the real issues affecting the people of South Dakota, Gov. Noem and anti-LGBTQ+ state legislators continue their relentless, baseless, and patently discriminatory attacks against transgender kids. They show no shame," said a statement from HRC State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel Cathryn Oakley. "The governor's eagerness to pass a bill attacking transgender kids reveals that her national political aspirations override any sense of responsibility she has to fulfill her oath to protect South Dakotans.

"Gov. Noem and South Dakota legislators need to stop playing games with vulnerable children. Transgender children are children. They deserve the ability to play with their friends. This legislation isn't solving an actual problem that South Dakota was facing: it is discrimination, plain and simple. Shame on Governor Noem."

Last week, Noem's chief of staff, Mark Miller, said fighting trans inclusion in sports is like fighting terrorism. "By putting it in law we are ensuring that what we're seeing all over the country does not happen in South Dakota. It's sort of like terrorism. You want to keep it over there, not let it get to here," he said at a House committee meeting. The HRC called his comment "obscene."

Nine other states adopted trans-exclusionary sports laws in 2021 and 2020.

South Dakota has advanced another anti-trans bill, with the House Tuesday approving House Bill 1005, which would make students use the school restrooms and locker rooms designated for their sex assigned at birth, therefore preventing trans students from using the facilities that comport with their gender identity. The Senate will now consider the bill.

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