The Biden administration condemned South Dakota lawmakers for passing the year’s first anti-transgender bill and has vowed to keep “fighting for the full measure of equality.”
In a statement released exclusively to The 19th, White House Assistant Press Secretary Kevin Munoz accused Republican lawmakers of leveling attacks against transgender kids to score political points.
“These anti-transgender bills are nothing more than bullying disguised as legislation and undermine our nation’s core values,” he said. “These bills don’t keep kids safe — they put children and their families at risk of bullying and discrimination and, according to one recent study, damage the mental wellbeing of young people who deserve love and support.”
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed the first anti-trans bill of the year February 3. The measure barring transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams is the tenth law of its kind to pass in three years. LGBTQ+ advocates have been bracing for an onslaught of others. Arizona, Indiana and Alabama are advancing bills that would limit the rights of transgender children. Florida, meanwhile, is considering a bill that would ban talking about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.
The White House’s statement echoes past condemnations of other anti-trans measures in recent months. It comes after the South Dakota House also advanced a bill that would bar transgender kids in schools from using a bathroom or locker room that aligns with their gender. The White House did not say if it would take any action in response to the South Dakota sports bill or a pending bathroom bill. Last year the Justice Department backed suits against two anti-trans laws.
At least seven states have introduced anti-transgender legislation since the start of the year, according to LGBTQ+ rights organization Freedom for All Americans. LGBTQ+ advocates have been anxious for President Joe Biden to take a more forceful approach to opposing the wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation consuming state houses.
Like Munoz, they point to recent studies suggesting that the bills are eroding the mental health of transgender youth. LGBTQ+ youth suicide prevent organization the Trevor Project recently found that 85 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth reported that debates over trans rights in state legislatures were hurting their mental health.
One of Biden’s major campaign promises to queer Americans was the passage of the Equality Act, blanket federal protections that would outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. But like many of his priority bills, the landmark legislation has stalled in the Senate after passing in the House last March. Munoz said the White House is continuing to call on the Senate to pass the measure.
“The Biden-Harris Administration will keep fighting for the full measure of equality, dignity, and respect that all LGBTQI+ Americans deserve,” Munoz said.
Even without the law, the administration has tried to use its authority to challenge the bills. Last year, the Justice Department filed statements of interest, expressing that the administration had a legal authority in challenging two lawsuits against West Virginia and Arkansas for anti-trans laws. Both laws remain tied up in court.
On his first day in office, Biden issued an executive order enforcing a 2019 Supreme Court decision finding that LGBTQ+ people were protected under sex discrimination protections. Biden instructed federal agencies to apply those protections beyond employment, including to transgender kids in schools.
It’s unclear what legal recourse, if any, the administration would have in South Dakota. It’s unclear if there is a legal challenge to be mounted against the law at all.
Libby Skarin, campaigns director for the ACLU of South Dakota, North Dakota and Wyoming, said the ACLU had to ask transgender boys to testify against the bill last year, suggesting the group may not be able to find a transgender girl impacted by the law.
“I can’t say this with 100 percent certainty, but I’m fairly sure that there weren’t any trans girls actively playing sports at that time, and I’m fairly sure that’s still true today,” said Skarin.
Without a transgender girl who is prevented from playing by the new law, advocates have slim chances of mounting a legal challenge, they said.