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GOP lawmakers kickstart new wave of transgender athlete bans

South Dakota could become the first state this year to enact a law that would prohibit transgender girls from participating on sports teams for girls and women in high school and college.

Without a floor debate, the state House on Wednesday advanced a bill that would ban transgender girls from playing on girls varsity sports and club teams at school and require schools to use the student’s birth certificate to determine eligibility. The bill—which now heads to Republican Gov. Kristi Noem's desk—mirrors a similar proposal she vetoed during the 2021 session. But this bill has her endorsement.

“This is about fairness. This is about making sure our girls have a chance to be successful and compete,” said Noem in a January interview with Fox News. “I’m bringing a bill to the legislature that will be the strongest bill in the nation in protecting fairness in girls sports.”

In at least six other states—Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Virginia—lawmakers have filed similar legislation. In Kentucky, the Senate Education Committee removed a similar bill from its agenda hours before a scheduled vote.

Last year, lawmakers in Republican-led states introduced a higher number of anti-transgender bills than in any previous legislative session, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Eight states enacted laws.

Two states, Idaho and West Virginia, have been temporarily blocked by courts from enforcing their laws.

Proponents of the bills argue that transgender girls have an unfair athletic advantage over cisgender girls and women, and that allowing them to compete threatens the athletic opportunities that women and girls have enjoyed since the federal passage of Title IX in 1972, which requires that women and men be granted equitable opportunities to participate in sports.

LGBTQ groups have criticized states that enact laws restricting the participation of transgender athletes. Recently, in a letter to the National Collegiate Athletic Association in January, 17 education and human rights advocacy organizations requested the association amend its constitution in support of nondiscriminatory policies against transgender athletes. 

“The political climate that we have seen develop in certain state legislatures gives us little hope that non-discrimination and fair treatment are principles that will be consistently upheld by state laws, or that state policies are even trending in the right direction,” the letter said. “Repeated attempts by organizations and individuals to fight against inclusive interpretations of Title IX make clear that the NCAA must be an active partner in the fight for equality.”

Stateline is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts that provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy.

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