PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Thursday signed a bill that will ban transgender girls and college-age women from playing in school sports leagues that match their gender identity, making South Dakota the 10th state to enact such a law.
Noem is the first governor to sign such a ban this year.
The bill is set to take effect July 1 but faces potential legal challenges. Federal judges have halted enforcement of such laws in Idaho and West Virginia, while the Justice Department has challenged bans in other states as violations of federal law.
The Republican governor touted the ban at a bill signing ceremony in the Capitol, telling reporters: “We will ensure that we have fairness and a level playing field for female athletes here in the state of South Dakota, at the K-12 level and at the university level.”
Opponents have decried the bill as bullying and say it sends a message that transgender people are not welcome in the state.
“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 at The Trevor Project, which advocates for transgender youth.
Noem lobbied forcefully for the bill this year after shying away from signing a similar ban last year. She issued a “style and form veto” that led to its demise and argued that it contained flawed language that put the state at risk of litigation and retribution from the NCAA.
But Noem, who has positioned herself for a 2024 run for the White House, seized on the momentum this year of a cause taking hold among Republicans.
The NCAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the bill’s passage or whether it would take any action as a result. The college athletics organization last month adopted a sport-by-sport approach for transgender athletes, allowing each sport’s national governing body to determine its policy on transgender participation.