South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has signed a bill into law prohibiting transgender students from competing on sports teams that match their gender identity.
The so-called “Save Women’s Sports Act” was passed on a largely party-line vote in the state legislature by lawmakers who insisted that increasing numbers of transgender female athletes are taking away athletic opportunities from cisgender females due to their biological advantages.
Opponents of the bill argued that the problem is small in scope, noting that there have only been five applications — four of which were granted — to the South Carolina High School League, which governs middle and high school-level sports in the state, over the past six years from transgender athletes seeking to compete on teams matching their gender identity.
With McMaster’s signature into law, the Palmetto State becomes the 17th state in the nation to restrict transgender athletes’ participation in athletics.
While McMaster signed the law without much fanfare, he previously indicated he intended to sign he law, saying: “I think the girls ought to play girls and the boys ought to play boys. That’s the way we’ve always done it.”
When asked by reporters if he meant biological boys, the governor responded, “Are there any other kind?”
Under the law, transgender athletes at both the secondary school and collegiate levels are required to compete in sports that are designated for the gender listed on a person’s original birth certificate.
The legislation does make one exception for cisgender female students, allowing them to compete in cases where their school doesn’t offer a female team for their sport — a development that has been allowed in more recent decades due to court’s interpretations of Title IX, the federal law that prohibit sex-based discrimination in educational and athletic programs.
LGBTQ advocates expressed disappointment at McMaster’s refusal to veto the bill, as three other GOP governors have.
“It pains us to see lawmakers in South Carolina, and now the governor, ignore the voices of thousands of South Carolinians — including parents, medical providers, students, faith leaders, and transgender people ourselves — who expressed loudly and clearly that this bill will harm young people in our state,” Ivy Hill, the executive director of Gender Benders and the community health program director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, said in a statement.
“Transgender youth are not a threat to fairness in sports, and this law now needlessly stigmatizes young people who are simply trying to navigate their adolescence, make friends, and build skills like teamwork and leadership, winning and losing,” Hill added. “…Despite this setback, we will never stop fighting on behalf of trans and queer young people, and our coalition will explore every strategy possible to surmount every barrier to equality.”
A 2019 report from the Campaign for Southern Equality found that more than two-thirds of all LGBTQ people in South Carolina reported experiencing depression and anxiety, with even higher rates among transgender individuals and people of color.
The Trevor Project, the world’s top crisis intervention and suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth, noted that feelings of isolation and stigmatization can lead LGBTQ youth to consider or attempt suicide. According to a 2022 national survey by the organization, nearly 1 in 5 trans and nonbinary youth have reported attempting suicide in the past year, primarily due to the mistreatment they suffer as a result of their gender identity.
“Every day, The Trevor Project’s crisis counselors hear from young transgender and nonbinary people who want nothing more than to be honest about who they are and have the same opportunities as their peers,” Sam Ames, the director for advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, said in a statement.
“Like every one of the sports bans we’ve seen passed across the country over the last three years, this is a solution in search of a problem, and it will only work to increase the isolation and stigmatization of an already-marginalized group of students,” added Ames. “We implore lawmakers to stop these unfair and unnecessary policies targeting a small group of marginalized youth, and focus their energy on the well-being of all youth.”
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