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South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem continues push to ban transgender women and girls from female sports

Kristi Noem
Posted at 7:51 AM, Dec 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-15 09:52:33-05

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem announced on Tuesday that she has proposed legislation to her state to ban women and girls from playing on female sports teams. The legislation is the latest in the governor's efforts to issue the ban at both the high school and collegiate level.

The draft legislation Noem proposed states that any athletic teams in the state have to be based on participants' biological sex at birth and must be categorized as females, males or coeducational. The proposal will be considered during the legislative session in January.

The legislation puts an emphasis on transgender women and girls, saying "only female athletes, based on their biological sex, may participate in any team, sport, or athletic event designated as being for females, women, or girls." There is no specific mention of transgender boys or men, or those who are non-binary.

If an athletic entity or school violates these rules, should they be enacted, Noem's proposal would allow any athlete who "suffers direct or indirect harm" from their doing so to file for injunctive relief. And if that athlete is then retaliated against, the proposal says, they can seek additional relief.

Schools, school districts and institutions of higher education would also be able to file for relief if they feel as though they have been harmed because of a violation of the ban.

Noem said Tuesday that her proposal is an attempt to "defend fairness in girls' sports at both the K-12 and collegiate level."

"Every young woman deserves an equal playing field where she can achieve success, but common sense tells us that males have an unfair physical advantage over females in athletic competition. It is for those reasons that only girls should be competing in girls' sports," she said. "Women have fought long and hard for equal athletic opportunities, and South Dakota will defend them, but we have to do it in a smart way."

Noem had vowed to sign similar legislation earlier this year, but ultimately issued a partial veto against it when it passed the Legislature on March 8, according to the Associated Press. No transgender girls were playing in female high school sports leagues at the time that bill was being considered, according to the high school athletics association, and only one transgender girl has played in girls' leagues in the state, according to the association's records.

Among the vetoed portions of the bill was a section that would extend the ban to college-level sports. Noem argued at the time that applying the ban in a collegiate setting would result in the NCAA pulling tournaments out of the state, according to the AP.

Following that veto, Noem issued executive orders at both the K-12 and collegiate levels banning transgender females from participating in female sports. In the collegiate-level order, Noem referred to transgender women as "males," saying that allowing them to play in the sports that align with their gender will "threaten to diminish opportunities for women, due to the inherent physical differences between men and women."

The latest proposal is her attempt to codify those rules.

Noem's continued efforts to ban transgender girls and women from female sports has faced significant backlash from LGBTQ advocacy organizations.

"Trans lives in South Dakota are not up for debate. Trans girls are girls. Trans women are women. Period," Equality South Dakota tweeted on Tuesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota said that the draft legislation is a violation of the Constitution and Title IX.

"Noem claims she wants to 'promote fairness in women's sports,' but if that were true, she'd tackle the actual threats to women's sports such as severe underfunding, lack of media coverage, sexist ideologies that suggest that women and girls are weak, and pay equity for coaches," the organization tweeted. "If the Governor's proposed legislation is any indication of what's to come during the 2022 legislative session, discriminatory rhetoric will again take precedence over issues that South Dakotans really care about."

The proposal comes on the heels of what is believed to be the deadliest year for transgender people killed in the U.S. The year also saw a surge in legislation that specifically targeted transgender youth, particularly regarding their participation in sports and access to health care.

More than 100 bills have been proposed across the U.S. in the 2020 and 2021 legislative sessions. The governors of Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Montana and West Virginia have all signed legislation banning transgender students from sports teams that align with their gender.

Most of those proposals introduced in the past year have not succeeded, but advocates have warned that their existence alone can affect transgender youth. During the pandemic, The Trevor Project said it received "more than double" the typical volume of calls and messages from youth experiencing mental health crises.

The organization has estimated that at least one LGBTQ individual between the ages of 13 and 24 in the U.S. attempts suicide every 45 seconds.

"I think for a lot of kids, it's just a terrifying reinforcement of the most damaging messages that there's something wrong with them and they don't belong and they must try to make themselves into somebody that they're not," Jenny Pizer, law and policy director at Lambda Legal, previously told CBS News. "And they try and try and try and can't, and so they feel like a failure."

"And the message is that the person that they are has no worth, doesn't belong, shouldn't be here," Pizer continued, "they're just broken."