South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed legislation Thursday barring biological men from participating in girls’ and women’s scholastic sports, making her state the tenth to take action on transgender athletes.
Ms. Noem said at the bill-signing ceremony that Senate Bill 46 was aimed at protecting female athletes who want “to have an opportunity to go on potentially to play at a higher level, to earn scholarships, perhaps play professionally, and have a career.”
The measure, which passed overwhelmingly in the House and Senate, says: “Only female students, based on their biological sex, may participate in any team, sport, or athletic event designated as being for females, women, or girls.”
The sex determination is based on the official birth certificate issued at or near birth.
The legislation replaces similar executive orders issued by the Republican governor in March 2021 after she declined to sign a women’s sports bill over legal concerns.
LGBTQ advocates have decried such bills, saying they discriminate against transgender athletes by barring them from participating on teams that correspond with their gender identity.
Supporters of women’s sports counter that male-born competitors have an unfair physical advantage, which isn’t eliminated by the hormone-suppressing drugs involved in gender transitions.
Other states, including Indiana and Georgia, are considering similar legislation this year. Several bills passed in the last two years have been blocked by courts pending the outcome of lawsuits filed by transgender athletes.
The American Civil Liberties Union called the South Dakota bill “the first ban on trans student-athletes of the year.”
“This cruel and dangerous bill is part of a coordinated attack on trans youth moving nationwide,” the ACLU tweeted. “This moment doesn’t end here. Trans kids need us all in the fight, now.”
Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project, said the recent success of University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, who swam on the university’s men’s team before transitioning, underscores the urgency of such measures.
“Women’s sports are under serious threat nationwide,” Mr. Schilling said. “That has only become more clear in recent months, as instances such as Lia Thomas’ domination of collegiate women’s swimming have gained national visibility. For those who care about protecting a fair playing field for female athletes, inaction is no longer an option.”
The South Dakota measure creates a private cause of action for any student who “suffers direct or indirect harm” against “the accredited school, school district, activities association or organization, or institution of higher learning” in the state.
The bill-signing came after a state House committee refused to introduce her abortion bill, which would have banned procedures after a heartbeat can be detected during pregnancy or about six to eight weeks.
Ms. Noem blamed the decision on legal advice from “one out-of-state lawyer.”
“South Dakota deserved to have a hearing on a bill to protect the heartbeats of unborn children. We can hear heartbeats at six weeks, but I’m disappointed this bill was not granted even one hearing,” she said in a statement.