PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Monday said she will sign a bill to bar transgender girls and women from participating in female sports leagues.
However, whether it ultimately takes effect in the state will likely be decided in federal court. No transgender girl or woman currently plays in a female sports league in South Dakota, according to the high school athletics association.
“I’m excited to sign this bill very soon,” Noem tweeted minutes after it passed in the Senate. She described its passage as a celebration of International Women’s Day and a defense of women’s sports.
While proponents cast it as a way to “promote fairness in women’s sports,” Republican Sen. V.J. Smith labeled it as a “political statement” that would drag the state into a looming legal battle as lawmakers in 20 states weigh similar legislation.
“The decision is going to be made in federal court,” said Smith. “It’s not going to be made in the state senate of South Dakota.”
Only one state, Idaho, has enacted a law curtailing trans students’ sports participation, and that 2020 measure is blocked by a court ruling.
A Senate committee dominated by Republicans last week had rejected the bill, with senators reasoning that its passage would bring up a broad range of problems for the state - from the NCAA potentially shying away from hosting tournaments, to legal challenges for discrimination and the administrative burden of collecting proof of every high school athlete’s sex at birth.
But other Republican lawmakers revived the bill on the Senate floor and passed it Monday - the final day of the legislative session when they can pass such proposals. Proponents argued that allowing transgender women and girls to play in female sports leagues disadvantages other women and girls.
The state high school activities association, which opposed the bill, currently evaluates applications from transgender girls on a case-by-case basis. The association said its process was the best way to support transgender students while also maintaining competitive fairness. Only one transgender girl, who has since graduated, has played in girls’ leagues in the state.
But proponents of the bill cast a vision of a future in which girls’ and women’s sports are completely altered by the presence of their transgender peers.
“My heart breaks for future generations. The decision you make today will affect future generations,” said Republican Sen. Maggie Sutton, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. “I’m asking you today to protect women’s sports.”
Meanwhile, opponents worried about the devastating effects the bill’s passage could have for transgender people in the state.
“It’s about erasing and excluding trans people from participation in all aspects of public life,” said Jett Jonelis, the advocacy manager for the ACLU of South Dakota.
Democratic Sen. Reynold Nesiba agreed. He read a letter from a friend who is a transgender man during the Senate debate, describing the psychological challenges many transgender people face.
“To me, this looks an awful lot like bullying,” Nesiba said.
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