Women and girls who identify as transgender in South Dakota will no longer be able to compete on sports teams that correspond to their gender at accredited high schools and colleges, following the enactment of a law on Thursday by the state’s Republican governor to ensure “fairness in women’s sports.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation’s leading LGBTQ rights organizations, Gov. Kristi Noem’s decision to sign Senate Bill 46, which moved quickly 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.
It also makes South Dakota the latest Republican-led state to approve a measure of this nature, following a flurry of similar initiatives around the country last year that received widespread support.
As a result of Senate Bill 46, “only female pupils, regardless of their biological sex, shall be permitted to participate in any team, sport, or athletic event that is identified as being for ladies, 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 legislation defines “sexual orientation” as the sex listed on a student’s birth certificate that was “issued at or near the time of the student’s birth.” The legislation is scheduled to take effect this summer.
While sex is a category that relates generically to physiology, a person’s gender is an innate sense of self that is shaped by their biological characteristics.
Factors that influence the sex listed on a birth certificate may include anatomical characteristics, genetic makeup, and hormone levels; nevertheless, there is significant natural variation in each of these categories.
As a result, some have argued that the term “biological sex,” as it is employed in this statute, is excessively simple and deceptive in its application.
Advocates for such policies have stated that transgender women and girls have physical advantages over cisgender women and girls when it comes to athletic competition. Critics, however, argue that this legislation contributes to the discrimination that trans people, particularly trans youth, already face.
In 2017, a report published in the journal Sports Medicine reviewed several related studies and found “no direct or consistent research” to support the claim that trans people have an athletic advantage over their cisgender peers.
South Dakota lawmakers handed Noem a similar restriction in March, but she vetoed it and instead issued a pair of executive orders that basically accomplished the same result. The prohibition is now codified in state law.
Noem revealed on Thursday that she was pregnant: “I am grateful that this bill has received support from the legislature and has made it to my desk.
And that we will now work to guarantee those female athletes in the state of South Dakota — both at the K-12 level and at the collegiate level — are treated fairly and on an equal playing field with male athletes.”
During last year’s veto session, Noem stated that she did so because she wanted the measure changed to address “vague and overly broad language (that) could have substantial unintended repercussions.” The bill passed last year did not establish a link between students’ official sexes and their birth certificates.
Transgender athletes, particularly women and girls, have been a political flashpoint in recent years, particularly among conservatives, as a result of the argument about their inclusion in sports.
Last year, similar sports prohibitions were imposed in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia, aggravating LGBTQ supporters who claim conservatives are creating an issue where there isn’t one.
Activists sued the state of West Virginia, and a federal judge temporarily blocked the state’s implementation of the prohibition in July. The judge stated that he had “been supplied with scant evidence that this statute addresses any problem at all, let alone an essential concern.”
In November, advocates filed a lawsuit against the state of Tennessee in an attempt to overturn the state’s ban, though a judgment, in that case, has not yet been reached.
The NCAA has spoken out against such prohibitions, stating in April that it is closely monitoring them to ensure that NCAA championships can be held “in a welcoming and courteous environment for all athletes.”
Earlier this week, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, issued a statement condemning the new South Dakota law, stating that “the increasing number of political attacks creates a climate in which trans students suffer.”
“All children should have their needs met — by their families, their schools, and their communities, among other things. South Dakota has turned its back on children who are simply attempting to be children, and “he explained.