Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed Thursday legislation barring transgender athletes from competing in girls’ and women’s sports, an issue gaining steam in Republican-led state legislatures despite pushback from LGBTQ and business groups.
The Republican governor signed SB 354, the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, shortly after it passed both chambers by wide margins. The bill was delivered to his desk Tuesday.
“I have studied the law and heard from hundreds of constituents on this issue,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “I signed the law as a fan of women’s sports from basketball to soccer and including many others in which women compete successfully. This law simply says that female athletes should not have to compete in a sport against a student of the male sex when the sport is designed for women’s competition.”
The American Civil Liberties Union blasted the governor’s decision, tweeting that “Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson just signed a bill to ban women and girls who are trans from competing in sports,” and hinting at legal action.
“Banning trans athletes is cruel and wrong, but it’s also illegal,” said the ACLU.
Arkansas becomes the second state to approve such a bill this year, following Mississippi, where Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed legislation March 11 to bar biological males from competing against females in school sports.
Last year, Idaho became the first state to pass a women’s sports bill, which has yet to take effect after being stayed by a federal judge pending a lawsuit.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, sent back a similar bill last week to the GOP-controlled legislature, saying she wanted to see several changes made before signing it, including removing collegiate athletics from the measure.
She argued that including college sports would trigger sanctions from the NCAA and a lawsuit that the state was unlikely to win, sparking a backlash from conservative and women’s sports advocates who accused her of bowing to pressure from business groups.
The Arkansas bill applies to K-12 public schools as well as two-year and four-year public colleges and universities.
The bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Missy Irvin and state Rep. Sonia Eubanks Barker, requires athletes at public schools to compete in athletics in accordance with their sex at birth.
Kristen Waggoner, Alliance Defending Freedom general counsel, applauded the Arkansas governor and legislators for “standing up to the corporate interests and activists who have been pressuring them to cave to a ‘woke’ agenda at the expense of women and girls.”
“The law also provides female athletes with legal recourse if their rights are violated,” said Ms. Waggoner. “That’s vital because allowing males to compete in girls’ sports destroys fair competition and women’s athletic opportunities—the very things that Title IX was designed to protect in federal law.”