HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill Friday banning transgender athletes from participating in school and university sports according to the gender with which they identify, making Montana the latest of several Republican-controlled states to approve such measures this year.
Supporters of the bill have said it will ensure the playing field in girls’ sports remains fair. Opponents say it further harms already marginalized transgender youth. They have also raised concern over statements by the NCAA indicating the organization could revoke the opportunity to host championship events in states where such laws have been enacted, including popular football games that fill stadiums and bring business to Montana’s two largest university towns.
Lawmakers in more than 20 states have considered such bans, and they have become law in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia. Idaho’s law was blocked by a court ruling last year.
Governors in North Dakota and Kansas have vetoed similar measures.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. John Fuller of Whitefish, has said that “allowing males to compete as women in female sports will result in women once again being shouldered aside to stand below the awards podium and forced to cheer the accomplishments of men.”
But a review by The Associated Press found that in almost every state where such measures were advanced this year, bill sponsors could not cite a single instance in their own state or region where the participation of transgender athletes in sports has caused problems.
“If you look at the legislature’s justification for advancing the transgender sports ban, they could cite not one instance where transgender participation in athletics has been a problem or caused conflict,” said Alex Rate, legal director of ACLU of Montana.
Rate called the law “patently unconstitutional.”
“Somebody has to put themselves out there as a lead plaintiff in a high profile case to get these laws declared unconstitutional, and it’s unfortunate that the legislature is requiring somebody to do that,” he said.
Gianforte said last week that he had met with transgender people and athletes while considering whether to sign the bill. A spokesperson for the governor did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Gianforte’s decision to sign the bill into law. The bill had received widespread opposition from business leaders, physicians, athletes and members of the LGBTQ community.
“This bill unfairly targets trans youth and puts millions of federal education dollars at risk. It is unnecessary and harmful policy that comes at a massive cost to the state,” said Shawn Reagor, director of equality and economic justice with the Montana Human Rights Network.
Montana’s Republican-controlled Legislature approved the measure last month, after it was amended to become void if the federal government withholds education funding from the state over gender discrimination and an appeal by the state fails.
President Joe Biden signed an executive order his first day in office banning discrimination based on gender, raising concern among officials in the Montana university system that $350 million in education funding could be on the line if the measure is signed into law.
Samuels is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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