South Dakota House Passes Anti-Trans Sports, Bathroom Bills

Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has been targeting trans student-athletes for years.
REUTERS/Octavio Jones

South Dakota’s House of Representatives kicked off the month of February by passing legislation banning trans athletes and approving another bill that would limit trans people from using restrooms, locker rooms, and other public facilities in public schools.

The sports bill, which bars transgender girls and women and some non-binary individuals from participating in women’s sports in accordance with their gender identity, passed by a 50-17 margin. The bill forces student-athletes, including college athletes, to play sports in accordance with the gender they were assigned at birth.

“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,” the bill’s text stated.

Governor Kristi Noem — who has already implemented executive orders discriminating against trans athletes — signed the bill into law on February 3.

Noem’s team defended the legislation during an ugly House State Affairs committee hearing just days before the bill came to a final vote. Noem’s chief of staff, Mark Miller, said the law would ensure “that what we’re seeing all over the country does not happen in South Dakota.”

“It’s sort of like terrorism, you want to keep it over there, not let it get to here,” Miller said.

The offensive language prompted criticism from Cathryn Oakley, who serves as the legislative director and senior counsel for the Human Rights Campaign.

“Imagine your governor or her staff comparing you to a terrorist,” Oakley said in a written statement. “This inflammatory rhetoric shows just how untethered Noem and legislators are from the realm of science, evidence, or reality. Governor Noem seeks to become the face of discrimination and fear-mongering by putting a target on the backs of vulnerable children who already fear for their safety and well-being.”

Lawmakers already passed an anti-trans sports bill last year, but Noem declined to sign it after she complained that the law would have placed an overwhelming administrative burden on schools. She had also expressed concern that the law would have negative consequences on South Dakota colleges because the policy was out of step with national rules governing college sports. In the end, she simply approved a pair of executive orders last year carrying out her plan to sideline trans kids from playing fields.

After passing the sports bill this time around, lawmakers wasted no time in passing the other bill requiring people in public schools to use shower rooms, rest rooms, and changing rooms in accordance with the gender they were assigned at birth. That measure cleared the lower house 38-29, but the State Senate still has to pass it.

The bill is led by Representative Fred Deutsch, who has also proposed other anti-LGBTQ measures in the past. According to the Argus Leader, Deutsch introduced the bill to counter the Vermillion School district’s policy allowing trans students to use bathrooms in accordance with their gender identity.

The ACLU of South Dakota has argued that both pieces of legislation violate Title IX and the US constitution.

“The votes today by House lawmakers are shameful,” Jett Jonelis, ACLU of South Dakota’s advocacy manager, said in a written statement. “Senate Bill 46 and House Bill 1005 reinforce the incorrect notion that transgender students are not entitled to the same dignity and respect as all students.”