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South Dakota’s governor signs executive orders banning trans women from sports

Gov. Kristi Noem
Gov. Kristi NoemPhoto: Matt AJ/via Wikipedia

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) issued two executive orders to ban transgender girls and women from participating in school sports.

Taking a break from protecting children’s “God-given eternal soul” from out rapper Lil Nas X, Noem signed the executive orders yesterday after facing criticism from the right when she refused to sign a bill passed by the state legislature to ban trans girls and women from school sports.

Related: Biden admin withdraws support for lawsuit attacking trans girls in sports filed under Trump

Noem said that she didn’t oppose the bill – she even said that she was “excited” to sign it – she just wanted “style and form changes” to keep college athletics competitions from boycotting the state. But the backlash she faced was so harsh that she claimed she was the victim of “conservative cancel culture.”

Negotiations with the state legislature failed on Monday, so Noem issued the executive orders. The executive order about K-12 sports says that “only females, based on their biological sex, as reflected on their birth certificate or affidavit provided upon initial enrollment” can compete in girls’ sports.

The executive order about colleges and universities also bans transgender women from sports, saying “only females, based on their biological sex, as reflected on their birth certificate issued at the time of birth” can participate in college athletics.

The executive orders’ preambles say, “Current policies that allow males to participate in women’s athletics threaten to diminish opportunities for women, due to the inherent physical differences between men and women.” No one is advocating to allow cis men to participate in women’s sports.

And Noem’s assessment of “current policies” is questionable. South Dakota already requires transgender girls to present a letter from their doctor saying that they’re transgender and an “independent hearing officer” has to determine if they have a “competitive advantage.”

Under this policy, only one transgender girl has been allowed to play girls’ sports in the state.

Noem said on Twitter that she still wants the state legislature to pass a bill to ban transgender girls and women from school sports in a special session in May or June.

Gov. Noem’s crusade against transgender girls and women is part of a war being waged by state Republicans all over the country to roll back transgender rights this year, an issue that Republican strategists last year argued would be a good wedge issue to get people to vote for the GOP.

Despite the rhetoric that allowing trans girls and women to play sports will somehow destroy women’s sports or drive cis girls and women out of sports, few states currently have outright bans on trans girls in school sports and many have accepting policies. And there still isn’t an example of a sport where cis girls weren’t able to compete because of trans girls.

The point, though, is to create a body of law that says that words like “women” and “men,” under the law, are based on sex assigned at birth, legally erasing trans identity. Advocates argue that it’s like how religious exemptions lawsuits about wedding cakes aren’t about cake, they’re about rolling back anti-discrimination protections more generally.

The bills make use of cis people’s lack of understanding of the transition process to make the absurd claim that cis men will just claim to be trans women in order to win at sports.

“Cis people see a lot of the instantaneous results of the coming-out process, so they assume it’s just a snap decision,” sports journalist A.J. Andrews, a trans woman, told Vox. “They don’t see the years of hormone therapy and the changes it does to a body; they just see the moment of public change and fear some giant bodybuilder is going to do the same thing.”

Transgender equality advocates also point to how most of these bills are written and supported by Republican lawmakers, who don’t want to do anything of substance to actually help women’s sports.

“As a woman who has played sports my whole life, I know that the threats to women’s and girls’ sports are lack of funding, resources and media coverage; sexual harassment; and unequal pay,” said soccer star Megan Rapinoe in the Washington Post this weekend.

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