South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed an anti-transgender sports bill into law Thursday, restricting transgender women and girls from playing on school sports teams that match their gender identity in public schools and post-secondary institutions.
"Thankful to see this bill get support from the legislators and make it to my desk, and that now we will ensure that we have fairness and a level playing field for female athletes here in the state of South Dakota," said Noem in a press conference after the signing.
Senate Bill 46 was introduced less than two months before getting to Noem's desk. According to the legislation, if a student suffers "direct or indirect harm" due to a transgender student playing in a sport that matches their gender identity, they can pursue legal action against the school, organization or educational agency that caused said harm.
For lawsuits brought against schools, organizations and agencies that abide by the new law will be represented by the state's attorney general.
It's the first anti-transgender bill of the year, according to The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth.
2021 was a record-breaking year for anti-LGBTQ legislation; more than 250 of these bills were introduced and at least 17 were enacted into law, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
The decision was denounced by LGBTQ advocacy groups nationwide.
"At a time when young people are facing an unprecedented need for support, it is devastating to see politicians instead invent new ways to exclude them," said Sam Ames, the director of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project.
The Trevor Project highlighted concerns about the mental and physical well-being of trans youth amid discriminatory politics.
Almost half of trans youth featured in a study by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center say they have strongly considered ending their lives.
Trans youth often report feeling isolated and excluded in academic environments and that discrimination puts them at increased risk for poor mental health, suicide, substance abuse, violence and other health risks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ames added, "We want to remind every young trans person watching tonight that there are more people fighting for you than against you. We have your back, and we will continue working with our partners and advocates on the ground to challenge these laws and ensure that all youth have the support they need to survive and thrive."
Noem's statements on the bill mirror arguments from groups against the participation of trans women in sports who say that trans women have a "biological" advantage over women assigned female at birth.
"It's about allowing biological females in their sex to compete fairly in a level playing field that gives them opportunities for success," Noem said.
There is no evidence that trans athletes are disproportionately dominating sports that correlate with their gender identity or that they have an advantage in their sport, experts say.
Dr. Eric Vilain, a geneticist who studies sex differences in athletes, told NPR in March 2021 that testosterone affects performance in only a very small number of athletic disciplines and doesn't provide any advantage. The Texas bill that was under consideration does not cite any evidence of this either.
National Collegiate Athletic Association, the Olympics and the governing bodies for U.S. national sports leagues currently allow transgender athletes to compete in the sport matching their gender identity.
Opponents of the new law, including The Trevor Project and the ACLU of South Dakota, vow to continue to advocate against these bills.
"Senate Bill 46 simply perpetuates harmful myths about transgender people and reduces trans students to political pawns," the ACLU of South Dakota said in a Tweet.