March 11 (UPI) -- Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed into law a controversial bill on Thursday to ban transgender athletes from competing in women's sports, making it the first such legislation to be enacted this year.
The bill, S.B. 2536, made it to the Republican governor's desk after it passed both the Mississippi House by a vote of 81 to 28 last week and the state's Senate last month by a vote of 34 to 9.
"I never imaged having to say this but POTUS Biden left us no choice," Reeves said in a statement after signing the bill into law. "We will protect our young girls and ensure them a fair shot in public school sports -- they should not be forced to compete against biological males."
Reeves, who has made disparaging comments before about transgender athletes, had previously vowed he would sign into law the bill, which prohibits "students of the male sex" from athletic teams or sports designated for women at high schools and universities throughout the state.
Human rights and LGBTQ advocacy groups condemned the bill on Thursday as anti-transgender legislation.
"S.B. 2536 isn't about protecting fairness in women's sports. It's about erasing and excluding trans people from participation in all aspects of public life," the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi said in a statement. "It's about creating solutions to problems that don't exist."
The Human Rights Campaign, the United States' largest LGBTQ advocacy group, called Reeves' support for the bill "appalling," accusing him of choosing to be led by fear and division rather than facts and science in his decision-making.
"Legislators in Mississippi have not provided any examples of Mississippi transgender athletes gaming the system for a competitive advantage because none exist," Alphonso David, president of the organization, said in a statement. "Bullying transgender kids is no way to govern the state out of the crises they face."
According to data from the ACLU published late last month, 25 states are considering passing bills to elude transgender youth from athletics this year, and the Human Rights Campaign said so far in 2021, there are 147 bills it deems as anti-LGBTQ under consideration with 73 directly concerning transgender people.
The bill's enactment follows President Joe Biden signing an executive order on his first day in office to combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation in spaces such as locker rooms and school sports.
Reeves had said in early February that he was disappointed with the executive order and that he didn't understand why "politicians are pushing children into transgenderism."
"My heart breaks for the young women across America who will lose in this radical social experiment," he said.