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Gov. Noem signs transgender athlete ban into law in South Dakota

South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R) signs a bill Thursday at the state capitol to ban transgender women and girls from playing in school sports leagues that match their gender identity. (Stephen Groves/AP)
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South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R) signed legislation Thursday that bans transgender girls and college-age women from playing on female sports teams, calling it “an act to protect fairness in women’s sports.”

With Noem’s signature, South Dakota became the 10th state nationwide to enact such a ban, some of which are now facing legal challenges. She was the first governor this year to sign one into law.

“This bill has been an important priority for a lot of the people behind me,” Noem said during a signing ceremony at the state Capitol in Pierre, where she was flanked by bill advocates, “and I appreciate all of their hard work in making sure that girls will always have the opportunity to play in girls sports in South Dakota and have an opportunity for a level playing field, for fairness, that gives them the chance to experience success.”

Opponents have derided such legislation as discriminatory and harmful to the development of transgender children.

“The governor’s eagerness to pass a bill attacking transgender kids reveals that her national political aspirations override any sense of responsibility she has to fulfill her oath to protect South Dakotans,” Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “Gov. Noem and South Dakota legislators need to stop playing games with vulnerable children. Transgender children are children. They deserve the ability to play with their friends.”

Noem, who is considered a potential 2024 presidential contender, vetoed similar legislation last year, saying she feared legal action from the NCAA. South Dakota’s law applies to all state-accredited schools, including those at the college level.

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In a news conference after the bill signing, she also touted legislation being considered by South Dakota lawmakers that would ban the state’s schools from teaching critical race theory.

A frequent target for Republicans these days, the theory says that analyses of U.S. society must take into account its history of racism and how race has shaped attitudes and institutions.

Noem said banning the theory would ensure that “true history” is taught in the state’s schools.

South Dakota’s ban on transgender athletes in female sports follows the enactment of similar laws in Idaho, Montana, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and West Virginia, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit that seeks to advance “equality and opportunity for all.”

South Dakota’s bill is set to take effect July 1. Federal judges have halted enforcement of similar laws in Idaho and West Virginia, while the Justice Department has challenged bans in other states as violations of federal law, according to the Associated Press.