On Thursday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill into law requiring the state's schools and universities to designate sports teams by sex assigned at birth and prohibiting transgender student athletes from competing in athletics based on their gender identity.
Much of the rhetoric over the bill focused on transgender females competing in women's sports, with conservatives arguing that the legislation was needed to “protect” girls and women from competing against — and ostensibly losing to — transgender females.
The bill's chief sponsor, State Sen. Angela Burks Hill (R-Picayune) told the Associated Press that she had been approached by “numerous coaches” who felt there was a need for a policy restricting transgender competition “because they are beginning to have some concerns of having to deal with this.”
But Hill did not provide any evidence of transgender athletes competing in Mississippi schools or universities, nor did most lawmakers question her assertions, instead passing the bill on largely party-line votes in both the Senate and House, reports NBC News.
“I never imagined having to say this….. but POTUS Biden left us no choice. One of his first acts was to sign an EO encouraging transgenderism amongst children. So today, I proudly signed the Mississippi Fairness Act. We will protect our young girls and ensure them a fair shot in public school sports — they should not be forced to compete against biological males,” Reeves wrote in a post on his official government Facebook page.
Reeves had previously signaled his support for the bill, tweeting on March 4 that the law would “protect young girls from being forced to compete with biological males for athletic opportunities.”
Reeves had also condemned President Joe Biden for signing an executive order in January that sought to prohibit discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community, calling it a “radical social experiment.”
While the bulk of Biden's order was intended to focus on instances of discrimination in employment, housing, access to government services, and public accommodations, anti-LGBTQ social conservatives — and enterprising Republican politicians seeking to score political points — have emphasized the order's effect on women's sports.
Polls have shown the idea of trans athletes competing based on their gender identity is less popular among the American public, and fixating on trans athletes has the added bonus of defeating legal protections for LGBTQ individuals without requiring conservatives to publicly argue the much-less popular opinion that all LGBTQ people should be fired, denied housing, kicked out of businesses, or publicly shunned from society.
Reeves' signing of the bill makes Mississippi the first state in 2021 — and the most recent since Idaho passed a similar ban nearly a year ago — to restrict transgender athletes' ability to compete based on their gender identity. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is expected to sign a similar bill in the coming days, and nearly identical measures have cropped up in more than two dozen other states as a concerted and coordinated effort by anti-LGBTQ organizations.
Transgender advocates blasted the bill's signature into law.
“To the transgender students in Mississippi who have been attacked by this legislation, you belong, we see you and we will do everything we can to support you,” Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. “Gov. Reeves' actions today are unjust and discriminatory. He has targeted transgender kids and added to their burden, opening them up to more harassment, abuse and violence. Transgender students should be allowed to live their lives without fear and out of the shadows. Reeves has done Mississippi students real harm.”
Chase Strangio, the Deputy Director for Trans Justice with the American Civil Liberties Union's LGBTQ & HIV Project, which is representing two transgender athletes in an ongoing lawsuit over transgender inclusion in Connecticut — the only state thus far where athletes have garnered significant media attention for competing based on their gender identity — condemned Reeves' political grandstanding.
“Governor Tate Reeves signed into law the first anti-trans bill to pass in 2021. This bill will hurt Mississippi's economy, but most upsetting, it will hurt transgender youth in Mississippi,” Strangio said in a statement. “We call on the Biden administration to ensure our federal civil rights laws are fully enforced — including those that protect transgender youth from discrimination in schools.”
Strangio also noted that, under the bill's provisions, cisgender women who fail to conform to gender-based stereotypes of femininity could be subjected to invasive medical tests to “prove” they are female.
“Other states should know that passing a bill like this will come with real consequences. Just like it was never about restrooms, this bill is not about sports. It's about pushing trans people out of public life,” he said. “This investment in targeting trans kids and scrutinizing the bodies of women and girl athletes will also harm all young people in sport and create barriers to participation in activities that are invaluable to the health and well-being of our youth.
“To the trans youth in Mississippi who have been needlessly and cruelly targeted: The government cannot and will not be able to stop you from being who you are. we will never stop fighting for you.”
The Trevor Project, the nation's top suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization focusing on LGBTQ youth, noted in a statement that it has supported over 750 “crisis contacts” — where youth reached out due to feelings of suicidal ideation, extreme depression, or thoughts of self-harm — in Mississippi over the past year.
The organization has also issued a peer-reviewed study finding that trans and nonbinary youth who experience discrimination in their everyday lives due to their gender identity are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who had their gender identity affirmed.
“The Trevor Project is here 24/7 to support transgender and nonbinary youth in Mississippi and across the country who feel attacked and hurt by these incredibly misguided policies,” Sam Brinton, the vice president of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, said in a statement.
“Let's be clear — discrimination on the basis of gender identity is illegal. We will continue to partner with the broad coalition fighting these bills in every statehouse and court necessary to ensure that trans youth everywhere have access to the same opportunities as everyone else.”
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!