Supporters of the measure argue it protects women and girl athletes by ensuring they are not forced to compete against athletes born male, but critics say lawmakers have not identified any instance of that happening.
(CN) — Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves on Thursday signed a bill banning transgender athletes from competing in any girls’ or women’s sports at public schools and universities in the state.
Senate Bill 2536, which designates teams “according to biological sex,” is the first of its kind in the country to be signed into law in 2021 after a federal judge blocked enforcement of a similar Idaho law last August. The Mississippi law is set to take effect July 1 pending any legal challenges.
The push by conservative lawmakers nationwide to restrict transgender girls from competing against other girls in school sports follows President Joe Biden’s executive order on his first day in office banning discrimination and extending protections to transgender students in federally funded schools.
Reeves, a Republican, had been expected to sign the bill after it was sent to his desk last week following passage in the Mississippi House on March 3 and the Senate on Feb. 11, mostly along party lines.
A father of three girls who play sports, Reeves said on Twitter after signing the bill Thursday morning that he “never imagined dealing with this,” but added that Biden’s executive order “left us no choice.”
“One of his first acts was to sign an EO encouraging transgenderism in children,” Reeves wrote. “So today, I proudly signed the Mississippi Fairness Act to ensure young girls are not forced to compete against biological males.”
There are 73 anti-LGBTQ bills under consideration in state legislatures across the country that directly target transgender people, with about half focusing on bans similar to the Mississippi law, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Alphonso Davis, president of the organization, called the law “a solution in search of a problem,” adding that state legislators failed to provide any examples of transgender athletes in Mississippi “gaming the system for a competitive advantage because none exists.”
“Like previous iterations of the same anti-equality fight, this law is bound to face scrutiny, legal challenges, and ultimately hurt the state’s reputation,” Davis said in a statement Thursday. “Transgender kids deserve better and so does Mississippi.”
While opponents argue that the Mississippi law and others like it are a discriminatory violation of Title IX federal education laws prohibiting sex discrimination, supporters defend the bill as a protection for women and girl athletes by ensuring they are not forced to compete against those born male.
“Girls deserve to compete on a level playing field,” said Christiana Holcomb, an attorney with the conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom, which is defending the Idaho law and is also representing three female high school athletes in a Connecticut case involving trans athletes. “Allowing males to compete in girls’ sports destroys fair competition and athletic opportunities for women.”
In blocking enforcement of the law in Idaho excluding transgender athletes from participating on women’s sports teams, Chief U.S. District Judge David C. Nye found that the plaintiffs were likely to establish that the law is unconstitutional as written.