South Dakota’s GOP Governor Signs 2022’s First Trans Athlete Ban Into Law

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill Thursday that bans transgender girls from playing on female sports teams, making the state the first this year to enact such a bill into law.

“This bill has been an important priority for a lot of the people behind me,” Noem said as she signed the bill at a news conference, “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.”

Noem vetoed a similar bill last March because she said the legislation wouldn’t survive legal challenges. Later that month, she issued two executive orders that restricted participation on female sports teams to those assigned female at birth.

South Dakota’s law applies to all state-accredited schools, which generally includes both public and private schools, according to a spokesperson for the governor. If a student, accredited school, school district or institution of higher education “suffers direct or indirect harm” as a result of the law being violated, the law allows them to sue the school, association, government entity or other body that caused the alleged harm.

Trans advocates and athletes argue these bills target their right to exist and still have access to the same opportunities that cisgender people do.

Kris Wilka, a 14-year-old trans boy who lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said during a news conference last year that “it wasn’t really until sports that I could be myself, because I could just be one of the dudes.”

He said he had to transfer schools after his middle school wouldn’t allow him to play football because he’s trans.

“Sports is my life,” he said. “My world revolves around football, and I don’t know if I would be able to function without it.”

South Dakota’s law will bar him from playing on the football team once it takes effect.