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South Dakota set to ban transgender students from girls' sports; Noem plans to sign bill

South Dakota's Senate 20-15 passed a bill that will require student-athletes compete in sanctioned sports according to their "birth sex." Gov. Kristi Noem said on Twitter she planned to sign the legislation, invoking International Women's Day in celebration, though the measure is largely viewed as discriminatory by transgender advocates.

Sioux Falls Republican Sen. Maggie Sutton speaks on her bill to "promote fairness in women's sports" on Monday, March 8. The bill passed the chamber on a 20-15 vote and heads for the governor's desk. (Christopher Vondracek / Forum News Service)

PIERRE, S.D. — The South Dakota State Senate has passed a legislative ban on transgender athletes performing according to their gender identity, sending the bill onto the governor's desk and opening up a potential legal quandary only a year after a similar law was stuck down as discriminatory in other states.

Gov. Kristi Noem invoked International Women's Day in a Twitter post shortly after the vote, saying she is "excited to sign this bill very soon."

While only one transgender girl in the last 10 years has received the OK by the South Dakota High School Activities Association to participate in sports, a measure brought by Republican lawmakers to ensure "fairness in women's sports" won over 20 South Dakota senators following testimony on the chamber floor on Monday, March 8, less than a week after the bill was defeated in committee.

"I just want to stand and state some facts, regarding biological males and females," said Sen. Erin Tobin , a Winner Republican, before listing off a number of physical comparisons between women and men, starting with a "grip strength" test.


"My grandmother didn't have the chance to participate in sports," finished Tobin.

Sen. Jim Bolin , R-Canton, spoke fondly of attending the state track meet each spring and observing how after the girls' 100-meter hurdles, they raised the hurdles for the boys' heats.

"That's a clear illustration (of biological differences)," Bolin said.

The bill has been resurgent throughout its life in the state house, with senators voting on Friday to "smoke out" the bill. On Monday, after voting to open debate, the bill's proponents sought to portray opposition to the legislation as somehow closing the door on women's sports, citing oft-referenced tales of athletic domination by transgender girl track runners in Connecticut now the subject of litigation.

But lawmakers countered that such noteworthy examples don't make a pattern, or even the vast majority of transgender athletes' experience in sports.

"In the past 10 years, only one individual participated in women's athletics who was born male and that individual did not dominate the athletics season," said Sen. V.J. Smith , R-Brookings.

The measure requires participants for both girls' and women's sanctioned athletics to submit documentation to state authorities identifying their birth sex and a clean slate of drug test results. Opponents noted the measure, which purports to uphold Title IX gender protection in sports, is patently discriminatory against transgender students.

In reading a constituent's letter, Sen. Reynold Nesiba , D-Sioux Falls, invoked heightened suicidal ideation among transgender people and said his own Christian faith precludes him from supporting this bill.


"This bill is at odds with my faith, with my understanding of science, and my understanding of what we're supposed to be doing in this building," Nesiba said.

The measure's proponents spoke little, if at all, about what the measure's passage would mean for the SDHSAA's rules on transgender participation or the consequence of forcing students who identify as female and who were marked at birth as male to compete as males.

The measure would allow students to be removed for making a "false statement" on the annual document and students who are "deprived of an athletic opportunity" to sue for relief.

In a statement after the vote, the ACLU of South Dakota stopped short of promising a lawsuit to challenge the law but said the Senate's vote "opens the state up to costly litigation."

Last week, Mississippi also passed a bill banning transgender student-athletes from competing on women's teams in high schools and universities. A federal judge in Idaho last year blocked similar legislation saying the laws violated federal nondiscrimination protections.

Contact Vondracek at, or follow him on Twitter: @ChrisVondracek.

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