South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has announced her intention to propose an anti-trans sports bill that would prohibit trans women and girls from playing on women’s sports teams in public schools.
Noem has long opposed allowing transgender students to participate in school sports as their gender, but she vetoed a transgender school sports ban that had passed the legislature in March because she feared backlash from the NCAA and thought that the wording of the bill left it vulnerable to being overturned in court.
Before deciding to veto, though, Noem celebrated the bill’s passage.
“In South Dakota, we’re celebrating #InternationalWomensDay by defending women’s sports!” she wrote on Twitter.
— Governor Kristi Noem (@govkristinoem) March 8, 2021
Despite deciding to veto it, she then implemented executive orders to prevent trans women at public high schools and universities from participating in women’s sports. Now, it seems she hopes to enshrine these rules into law.
“Common sense tells us that males have an unfair physical advantage over females in athletic competition,” she said in a statement.
Jett Jonelis, advocacy manager for the ACLU of South Dakota, said Noem’s bill “is clearly fueled by a fear and misunderstanding of transgender people in our state.”
While Gov. Noem and many proponents of these bills claim that they protect girls and women in sports, they don’t do anything to address the actual barriers that girls face in school sports. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, 23% more boys than girls participated in school sports in 2018, and 87% of NCAA colleges and universities offer disproportionately more athletic opportunities to men than to women.
The barriers cited by the Women’s Sports Foundation include bullying (that girls are mocked for playing sports), unsupportive families, abusive coaching, little training for school staff on gender equality, and a lack of access to mental and physical health care access.
Transgender girls participating in sports was not mentioned in the organization’s report as a reason girls don’t want to do sports.
There are currently 10 states with anti-trans sports bans on the books. In addition to South Dakota, they are Idaho, Montana, West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, and Texas.
While dozens of states consider these bills that attack transgender girls in sports or seek to ban gender-affirming health care for minors – including puberty blockers, which need to be taken at the onset of puberty – the Biden administration has already condemned them as illegal.
In March, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked about Biden’s views on the bills, and she brought up Biden’s executive order that he signed on his first day in office that said that federal civil rights legislation that bans discrimination on the basis of sex also bans anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
“The anti-discrimination executive order that the president signed is focused on children being able to learn without worrying about whether they will be discriminated against,” she said, “and this means not being denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.”
Since state legislatures cannot overturn federal civil rights protections, this means that states that attempt to ban transgender girls from school sports are in violation of federal law.
But that’s a matter that will have to be settled in federal court, where many judges were appointed by Donald Trump. Even if the courts ultimately rule in favor of transgender youth, it could take years of struggle to get such a ruling.