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S.D. governor proposes ban on transgender girls in female sports

The bill would codify executive orders Gov. Kristi Noem issued earlier this year that pushed schools to ban trans girls and women from female sports teams.
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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has revived her efforts to ban transgender girls and women from female sports teams.

Noem, a Republican, proposed a bill Tuesday that would ban trans girls from playing on any female sports teams at school, including club teams. It would require schools to use the sex listed on a student's birth certificate "issued at or near the time of the athlete’s birth" to determine what team they are allowed to play on.

The proposal revives a bill that passed the state legislature in March. Noem vetoed that bill, saying she didn't think it would survive legal challenges. She then issued executive orders that banned transgender students in K-12 schools and universities from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

Noem’s proposed bill would codify those orders, her office said Tuesday. She described the orders as an effort to ensure “an equal playing field” for women.

“Common sense tells us that males have an unfair physical advantage over females in athletic competition,” the governor said in a statement.

This latest bill is the eighth attempt by South Dakota lawmakers to restrict trans athlete participation, according to the ACLU of South Dakota.

If passed, the measure would give student athletes the ability to sue for injunctive relief against any governing body — such as a school, school district or athletic association — if they claim to suffer harm from that body violating the law. It would also allow students to seek further relief if they face retaliation after filing for initial relief.

Schools and school districts would be able to seek injunctive relief if they suffer harm as a result of a government entity, athletic association or other organization violating the law.

South Dakota is one of 10 states — and one of nine just this year — to ban transgender athletes from playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit think tank. Like Noem, supporters of the laws have said they want to prevent trans girls from having an unfair advantage over cisgender girls, or girls who are not transgender.

But advocates and researchers say that there is little scientific evidence to support such an advantage, and that all of the relevant studies were conducted on adults and not K-12 students.

The ACLU of South Dakota described Noem's proposed legislation as "a solution in search of a problem," noting that there haven't been any examples of transgender girls in the state having an unfair athletic advantage.

“Gov. Noem’s proposed legislation is clearly fueled by a fear and misunderstanding of transgender people in our state,” Jett Jonelis, advocacy manager for the ACLU of South Dakota, said in a statement.

If Noem wanted to promote fairness in women's sports, Joneslis said, then she would address "actual threats to women's sports," such as underfunding, lack of media coverage, pay equity for coaches and sexist attitudes that suggest that women and girls are weak.

"Bills like this that seek to ban trans women and girls from participation in athletics are based on inaccurate stereotypes about biology, athleticism and gender and are not in line with South Dakota values,” Jonelis said.

The ACLU and other legal organizations have already filed lawsuits against measures that ban transgender girls from competing on female sports teams. So far, federal courts in Idaho and West Virginia have blocked laws from taking effect. In April, a federal judge in Connecticut dismissed a lawsuit against the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference's policy permitting transgender women and girls to play on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

Though 10 governors signed restrictions on trans athletes into law, state legislators in more than 20 other states considered similar bills this year that ultimately failed. Advocates say that Noem's draft bill is most likely just the first attempt at resurrecting restrictions on trans athletes and that they expect more state representatives to reintroduce their bills in the coming legislative sessions.

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