JACKSON, Miss. -- Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill Thursday to ban transgender athletes from competing on girls or women’s sports teams.
Mississippi is the first state this year to enact such a ban, after a federal court blocked an Idaho law last year. Mississippi’s Senate Bill 2536 is set to become law July 1, although a legal challenge is possible.
More than 20 states are proposing restrictions on athletics or gender-confirming health care for transgender minors this year. Conservative lawmakers are responding to an executive order by Democratic President Joe Biden that bans discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere. Biden signed it Jan. 20, the day he took office.
“But for the fact that President Biden as one of his first initiatives sat down and signed an executive order — which, in my opinion, encourages transgenderism amongst our young people — but for that fact, we wouldn't be here today,” Reeves said during a ceremony in the Mississippi Capitol, where he was joined by legislators who supported the bill.
Alphonso David, president of the LGBTQ civil rights organization Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Thursday that the Mississippi law could lead to more bullying of transgender people.
“This law is a solution in search of a problem, and legislators in Mississippi have not provided any examples of Mississippi transgender athletes gaming the system for a competitive advantage because none exist,” David said.
Reeves has three daughters who play sports and he said March 4 on Twitter that Mississippi’s bill would “protect young girls from being forced to compete with biological males for athletic opportunities.”
Chase Strangio, a transgender-rights attorney with the national ACLU, said the Mississippi bill “is very vague and seemingly unenforceable.”
“Unfortunately, there is already rampant discrimination against trans youth in Mississippi, which means people are already driven out of sport,” Strangio said.
Alliance Defending Freedom is a conservative group defending the Idaho law and representing three cisgender girls in a Connecticut lawsuit that seeks to prevent transgender athletes from competing in girls sports. In a statement Thursday, Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Christiana Holcomb praised the Mississippi law.
"When we ignore science and biological reality, female athletes lose medals, podium spots, public recognition, and opportunities to compete," Holcomb said.
The Mississippi Senate passed the bill Feb. 11, and the House passed it March 3. The votes were largely along party lines, with most Republicans supporting the bill and most Democrats either opposing it or refraining from voting.
Republican legislators who pushed the bill gave no evidence of any transgender athletes competing in Mississippi schools or universities.
“The coaches have told me that this is an imminent problem in Mississippi, and that's basically all the details that they were willing to give me,” Republican Sen. Angela Hill of Picayune said in response to questions Thursday. “I can't tell you that they don't know any examples. I believe they do know examples. I think that they wanted to leave it in general terms. But they told me that this is an urgent matter.”
Supporters of bills such as the one in Mississippi argue that transgender girls, because they were born male, are naturally stronger, faster and bigger than those born female. Opponents say such proposals violate not only Title IX of federal education law prohibiting sex discrimination, but also rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Associated Press writer David Crary contributed to this report from New York. Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.