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South Dakota Bars Transgender Girls From Playing In School Sports

Gov. Kristi Noem issued executive orders limiting transgender women and girls’ participation in school sports teams after vetoing legislation with a similar goal.

by Morgan Brinlee

Roughly a week after refusing to sign a bill that would bar transgender girls from participating in school sports, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem issued two executive orders on Monday that do just that. Under Noem’s executive orders, only individuals declared female at birth will be allowed to participate in girls’ athletic events or programs that are authorized or endorsed by public schools.

“Only girls should play girls’ sports,” Noem said in a statement shared Monday over Twitter. “Given the legislature’s failure to accept my proposed revisions to HB 1217, I am immediately signing two executive orders to address this issue: one to protect fairness in K-12 athletics, and another to do so in college athletics.”

In the first of her executive orders, Noem instructs that “only females, based on their biological sex, as reflected on their birth certificate or affidavit provided upon initial enrollment ... shall participate in any girls’ or women’s athletic event sanctioned by a public school, a school district, or an association meeting the requirements of [a high-school activities association as defined in South Dakota law].” The governor’s second executive order contains exactly the same language but refers to athletic events sanctioned by higher education institutions.

Noem issued her executive orders after refusing to sign legislation with a similar end goal earlier this month in a move that angered a number of members of her own party. Under the bill, students seeking to play school sports would have been required to disclose their age, the sex they were assigned at birth, and verify that they were not using steroids.

At the time, Noem returned the bill to state legislators along with a number of recommended “style and form” changes. At the top of the governor’s list of recommended changes were concerns the bill’s vague language could open the door to lawsuits against schools and place them under severe administrative burdens.

“Unfortunately, as I have studied this legislation and conferred with legal experts over the past several days, I have become concerned that this bill’s vague and overly broad language could have significant unintended consequences,” Noem said in a letter to legislators. “Overall, these style and form clarifications protect women sports while also showing empathy for youths struggling with what they understand to be their gender identity. But showing empathy does not mean a biologically-female-at birth woman should face an unbalanced playing field that effectively undermines the advances made by women and for women since the implementation of Title IX in 1972.”

When state legislators refused to adopt Noem’s changes, she vetoed the bill and opted to issue her own executive orders. On Monday, Noem announced she planned to schedule a special legislative session later this year where lawmakers will once again take up the issue.

While South Dakota is the latest state to see conservative lawmakers approve a ban on transgender athletes’ participation in school athletic programs or teams that align with their gender, they’re hardly the only one to do so. A similar bill is currently working its way through the Michigan State Legislature.