South Dakota bans men who identify as female from competing in women's sports as 'trans athletes'

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference held in the Hyatt Regency on February 27, 2021, in Orlando, Florida. Begun in 1974, CPAC brings together conservative organizations, activists, and world leaders to discuss issues important to them. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has signed a bill into law that, among other things, prohibits men who self-identify as female from competing in women’s sports.

Noem signed Senate Bill 46, also known as "An Act to protect fairness in women's sports”  into law on Thursday, having been overwhelmingly passed in the House and Senate.

At the official signing ceremony, Noem explained that she believed the new law would give women and girls “a level playing field” in athletic competitions in South Dakota.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signs Senate Bill 46 into law on Feb. 3, 2022. The measure prohibits men from competing in women's sports. | Screengrab: Facebook/govnoem

“Girls will always have the opportunity to play in girls’ sports,” she added, saying the new law “gives them the chance to experience success, go on to potentially play at a higher level, earn scholarships, perhaps play professionally, and have a career.”

Terry Schilling, president of the conservative group the American Principles Project, released a statement on Thursday expressing his support for the new law.

“Gov. Noem and South Dakota legislators deserve a great deal of credit for passing this strong legislation, despite some hiccups last year,” stated Schilling.  

“We thank them for standing up for equal opportunities for their state’s women and girl athletes, and we urge lawmakers in states without such protections to get to work on passing them immediately.”

The South Dakota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union denounced the bill's passage, claiming that it was discriminatory against trans-identified individuals.

“Senate Bill 46 not only discriminates against trans women and girls in ways that compromise their health, social and emotional development, and safety, but also it violates federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection,” stated Jett Jonelis, ACLU of South Dakota advocacy manager, in comments last week.

“It perpetuates harmful myths about transgender people and reduces trans students to political pawns. Our lawmakers should be focused on protecting South Dakota’s youth by creating safe and welcoming environments rather than launching baseless attacks to score political points.”

In March 2021, Noem issued a style and form veto of a similar bill passed by state legislators, arguing that parts of the proposed legislation needed revisions.

Recently, several state legislatures have debated bills aimed at barring men who self-identify as female from participating in sports designated for women and girls.

Noem’s signing of SB 46 comes as the University of Pennsylvania has garnered international headlines over its decision to allow Lia Thomas (formerly Will Thomas), a man who identifies as female, to compete on its women’s swim team.

Although the university supports Thomas’ involvement on the female swim team, many on the team and their families have expressed discomfort over having to compete with a man.

In a letter sent to the University of Pennsylvania and the Ivy League on Thursday on behalf of 16 anonymous athletes on the swim team, the women lamented that despite the hours spent training and working out, they're being “sidelined or beaten by someone competing with the strength, height, and lung capacity advantages that can only come with male puberty.” 

“The Penn Women’s Swimming Team has over 40 women, but only 18 of us are chosen to compete in the end-of-year culmination of our work: the Ivy Championships. Most important to us is that Lia’s inclusion with unfair biological advantages means that we have lost competitive opportunities. Some of us have lost records,” the letter states in part. 

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