Transgender women and girls in South Dakota will not be able to compete on sports teams consistent with their gender at accredited schools and colleges after the state’s GOP governor enacted a “fairness in women’s sports” law on Thursday.
Gov. Kristi Noem’s decision to sign SB 46, which quickly made its way through the statehouse at the start of the 2022 legislative session, makes South Dakota the first state this year to enact an anti-trans law, according to the Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation’s leading LGBTQ rights groups.
It also makes South Dakota the latest Republican-led state to approve such a measure following a slew of similar initiatives nationwide last year.
SB 46 stipulates that “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 legislation defines “biological sex” as the sex listed on a student’s birth certificate that was “issued at or near the time of the student’s birth.” The bill is set to go into effect this summer.
While sex is a category that refers broadly to physiology, a person’s gender is an innate sense of identity. The factors that go into determining the sex listed on a birth certificate may include anatomy, genetics and hormones, and there is broad natural variation in each of these categories. For this reason, critics have said the language of “biological sex,” as used in this legislation, is overly simplistic and misleading.
Advocates of such measures have argued that transgender women and girls have physical advantages over cisgender women and girls in sports. But a 2017 report in the journal Sports Medicine that reviewed several related studies found “no direct or consistent research” on trans people having an athletic advantage over their cisgender peers, and critics say this legislation adds to the discrimination that trans people face, particularly trans youth.
Lawmakers in South Dakota sent a similar ban to Noem last March, but she vetoed it and instead issued a pair of executive orders that effectively did the same thing. Now the ban is enshrined in state law.
Noem said on Thursday that she was “thankful to see this bill get support from the legislators and make it to my desk. And that now we will ensure that we have fairness and a level playing field for female athletes here in the state of South Dakota – the K-12 level and the university level.”
When Noem vetoed last year’s bill, she said she was doing so because she wanted the legislation revised to address “vague and overly broad language (that) could have significant unintended consequences.” Last year’s bill did not link students’ official sexes to birth certificates.
The debate over the inclusion of transgender athletes, particularly women and girls, has become a political flashpoint in recent years, especially among conservatives.
Last year, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia enacted similar sports bans, infuriating LGBTQ advocates who argue conservatives are creating an issue where there isn’t one.
In July, a federal judge temporarily blocked West Virginia’s enforcement of its ban after advocates sued the state, with the judge saying he had “been provided with scant evidence that this law addresses any problem at all, let alone an important problem.” Advocates also sued Tennessee in November in an effort to overturn that state’s ban, though a decision in that case has not yet come.
The NCAA has come out in opposition to such bans, saying last April that it’s closely monitoring them to make sure NCAA championships can be held “in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants.”
Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, condemned the new South Dakota law on Friday, saying in a statement that “the growing number of political attacks creates an environment where trans students suffer.”
“All kids should be supported – by their families, their schools and their communities. South Dakota has turned its back on kids who are just trying to be kids,” he said.
CNN’s Joe Sutton contributed to this report.