South Dakota Governor Looking Forward to Ban Transgender Girls and Women from Female Sports

A proposal to ban trangender women and girls from playing on female sports teams was unveiled by South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem on Tuesday.

Legislation passed by the governor steps up her efforts to prohibit transgender girls and women both in high schools and colleges sports.

Noem’s drafted legislation would require that the state’s athletic teams be classified according to the biological sex of participants and must be female, male, or coeducational. This will be discussed in the upcoming legislative session by January.

Transgender women and girls are given particular attention in the legislation, which states: “only female athletes, based on their biological sex, may participate in any team, sport, or athletic event designated as being for females, women, or girls.” The legislation does not explicitly address transgender people or those who are non-binary.

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Under Noem’s proposal, if these rules are enacted, an athlete who “suffers direct or indirect harm” as a result of an athletic organization or school violating these rules could seek injunctive relief. The proposal states that athletes may seek further relief if they are again retaliated against.

Additionally, schools, districts, and higher education institutions could also seek relief if they felt they had been harmed by violence against the ban.

The proposal, Noem said Tuesday, seeks to “defend fairness in girls’ sports at both the K-12 and collegiate level.”

“Every young woman deserves an equal playing field where she can achieve success, but common sense tells us that males have an unfair physical advantage over females in athletic competition. It is for those reasons that only girls should be competing in girls’ sports,” she said. “Women have fought long and hard for equal athletic opportunities, and South Dakota will defend them, but we have to do it in a smart way.”

The Associated Press reported that Noem had pledged to sign similar legislation earlier this year, but ultimately issued a temporary veto against it after the Legislature passed it on March 8.

It was vetoed in part because it would have extended the ban to college-level sports. As reported by AP, Noem argued that the NCAA would be forced to pick up tournaments in other states if the ban was applied to collegiate levels.

When the bill was being considered, no transgender girls participated in female high school sports leagues, the high school athletics association reported. Records from the state association show there has only been one transgender girl who played in the girls’ league.

After that veto, Noem issued executive orders prohibiting transgender women from participating in female sports both at the K-12 level and at the collegiate level. On the college level, Noem called transgender women “males,” saying that if they were allowed to play sports that aligned with their gender, they would “threaten to diminish opportunities for women, due to the inherent physical differences between men and women.”

She has attempted to codify those rules in her latest proposal.

Despite significant backlash from LGBTQ advocacy organizations, Noem’s efforts to bar transgender women from female sports continue.

“Trans lives in South Dakota are not up for debate. Trans girls are girls. Trans women are women. Period,” said a Twitter message Tuesday from Equality South Dakota.

In South Dakota, the American Civil Liberties Union claimed that the draft legislation violated Title IX and the Constitution.

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“Noem claims she wants to ‘promote fairness in women’s sports,’ but if that were true, she’d tackle the actual threats to women’s sports such as severe underfunding, lack of media coverage, sexist ideologies that suggest that women and girls are weak, and pay equity for coaches,” wrote the organization.

“If the Governor’s proposed legislation is any indication of what’s to come during the 2022 legislative session, discriminatory rhetoric will again take precedence over issues that South Dakotans really care about.”

Let’s be clear: Noem’s proposed legislation is an attack on transgender women and girls.

— ACLU of South Dakota (@ACLUSouthDakota) December 14, 2021

It comes at a time when transgender people have been killed in the United States more than ever before. Legislation that specifically targets transgender youth also gained momentum during the year, particularly in regards to sports participation and access to health care.

In the 2020 and 2021 legislative sessions, more than 100 bills have been introduced across the country. Transgender students are barred from participating in sports teams based on their gender by governors in Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Montana, and West Virginia.

In the past year, many of these proposals have failed to pass, but advocates warn that the existence of these proposals alone can affect transgender youth. Youth experiencing mental health crises contacted The Trevor Project in greater numbers during the pandemic than usual.

According to the organization, LGBTQ people aged 13 to 24 are estimated to attempt suicide every 45 seconds in the U.S.

“I think for a lot of kids, it’s just a terrifying reinforcement of the most damaging messages that there’s something wrong with them and they don’t belong and they must try to make themselves into somebody that they’re not,” said Jenny Pizer, law and policy director at Lambda Legal.

“And they try and try and try and can’t, and so they feel like a failure.”

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“And the message is that the person that they are has no worth, doesn’t belong, shouldn’t be here,” Pizer continued, “they’re just broken.”

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