Metro Weekly

South Dakota governor signs ban on trans athletes

Law bars female-designated teams from accepting any athlete who was not assigned female at birth.

south dakota, trans, athletes
Kristi Noem – Photo: Gage Skidmore.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has signed a bill into law banning transgender athletes from competing on sports teams matching their gender identity.

The measure, which Noem has championed since last year, is one of several bills dealing with “culture war” issues that Noem has used to elevate her national profile in advance of a possible 2024 presidential run. She has also pushed for draconian abortion bans, a ban on so-called “critical race theory,” and a bill to require schools to have a moment of silence at the beginning of the day to permit students the chance to pray. 

Under the new law — which is the first state ban on trans athletes to pass this calendar year — any interscholastic, intercollegiate, intramural, or club athletic team designated exclusively for females may only accept athletes who were assigned female at birth.

The bill classifies all students as either “male” or “female,” based only on the gender listed on their official birth certificate at or around the time of their birth. That ensures transgender students who officially change their gender marker to reflect their gender identity will be barred from competing on teams that do not match their assigned sex at birth.

“This bill is about fairness,” Noem said at a press conference on Thursday evening. “It’s about allowing biological females in their sex to compete fairly in a level playing field that gives them opportunities for success.”

The bill is set to take effect July 1 but could face potential legal challenges from LGBTQ advocates. Since 2020, nine states have passed nearly identical legislation restricting transgender students’ ability to participate in sports, although some of those laws have since been challenged in court. Federal judges in Idaho and West Virginia have blocked such bans from going through, with the judge in the latter rejecting the state’s request to dismiss the lawsuit. Additionally, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s top LGBTQ advocacy group, has sued the state of Florida over its ban on transgender athletes.

LGBTQ advocates have said that South Dakota’s ban, just like the bans in the other nine states, amounts to “discrimination” and may possibly be unconstitutional.

“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,” Cathryn Oakley, the Human Rights Campaign’s state legislative director and senior counsel, said in a statement.

“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,” Oakley added. “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.”

Sam Ames, the director of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, the nation’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, said the new law is “devastating” and finds new ways to exclude transgender youth.

“We want to remind every young trans person watching tonight that there are more people fighting for you than against you,” Ames said in a statement. “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.”

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