Update: On Thursday, March 11, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed his state’s anti-transgender sports bill into law, making the state the first in 2021 to pass such a bill into law.
In a statement to media, Chase Strangio, deputy director for trans justice at the ACLU, called on the Biden administration to enforce civil rights law protecting transgender people.
“Other states should know that passing a bill like this will come with real consequences,” Strangio said. “To the trans youth in Mississippi who have been needlessly and cruelly targeted: The government cannot and will not be able to stop you from being who you are. we will never stop fighting for you.”
The organization has vowed to sue on behalf of young trans people barred from sports who come forward.
Two anti-LGBTQ+ bills — Mississippi’s transgender youth sports ban and South Dakota’s Religious Freedom and Restoration Act — are both heading to the states’ governors for their signatures.
The two bills are the first in a spate of anti-LGBTQ+ measures to advance out of state legislatures in what advocates say has been an unprecedented campaign against transgender rights in particular.
“Anti-equality forces are attacking our families,” Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said on a call with reporters Thursday. “They’re attacking our children. They’re attacking our dignity, and they’re attacking our existence.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign, more than 70 anti-trans bills are pending in state legislatures, with new bills still being introduced. The organization estimates that 2021 will eclipse 2020 as the year with the most anti-LGBTQ+ legislation ever filed.
Mississippi Senate Bill 2536 bars “males” from competing on interscholastic or intramural athletic teams. The bill states that a student’s sex is to be determined by their reproductive anatomy, testosterone levels and “analysis of the student’s genetic makeup,” which a student can establish with a doctor’s note. Its aim is to keep transgender girls, many of whom have yet to reach puberty, from playing on sports teams.
Last month, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves criticized President Joe Biden’s LGBTQ+ executive order, which enforced the Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling that prohibited employment discrimination against queer workers and extended sex protections in law to include LGBTQ+ kids in sports, as a “radical social experiment.” Reeves, a Republican, did not immediately respond to a request to comment from The 19th.
Mississippi resident Katy Binstead said she worries about her daughter, after her principal told her she couldn’t play basketball with other middle schoolers.
“My daughter isn’t comfortable playing with the boys because she’s not a boy, and she never has been a boy,” Binstead said. “And they’re saying she can’t play girls’ basketball, based on a gender assigned at birth.”
But for Binstead, the issues go beyond what team her daughter plays on. “There’s so many mental health issues at play here,” she said. “A lot of kids that are transgender, if they’re not affirmed, the mental health risk of them dying by suicide is quite high.”
At least two bills — in Alabama and Minnesota — would criminalize and even incarcerate transgender children for playing on athletic teams inconsistent with their sex assigned at birth.
However, state legislatures aren’t just passing athletic bills. South Dakota has passed a Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA), a type of anti-LGBTQ+ religious exemption law not seen since former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence inked one into law in 2015. The bills mirror a 1993 federal law that has been used to justify discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and women, advocates say. At least 36 states have RFRAs pending in state legislatures.
South Dakota Senate Bill 124 was intended to allow churches to stay open during the pandemic. However, the bill contains four lines that echo RFRA language. South Dakota has been used as the testing ground for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation since federal marriage equality became the law of the land in 2015, in part because its chambers are Republican-controlled.
It’s unclear if South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem will sign the bill into law. The Associated Press reported last month that the Republican said she welcomed transgender people in South Dakota but declined to comment on the transgender legislation moving through her state.