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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signs transgender athlete ban

Feb. 3 (UPI) -- South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Thursday signed a law banning transgender athletes from playing on school sports teams that match their gender identity.

Noem signed Senate Bill 46 into law Thursday, mandating that sports participation in the state be segregated by sex assigned at birth for boys, girls or coed sports, effective July 1.

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The bill effectively keeps transgender boys and girls from playing on boys and girls sports teams respectively.

"This bill has been an important priority for a lot of the people behind me," Noem said as she signed the bill. "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, go on to potentially play at a higher level, earn scholarships, perhaps play professionally and have a career."

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The bill is the eighth transgender sports bill brought up in South Dakota since 2015 and the first bill limiting transgender athletes passed in any state this year, according to The Trevor Project, which provides crisis support to LBTQ youth.

"This early on in 2022, a year when we as a nation are facing unprecedented obstacles, it's as heartbreaking as it is infuriating to see South Dakota lawmakers put such effort into attacking transgender youth," Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, said in a statement when the law passed in the legislature. "Bills like these are unnecessary and cruel, and we know the ugly rhetoric surrounding them is having a real impact on the mental health and wellbeing of one of our most marginalized groups of young people."

Noem had vetoed a similar bill in last year's legislation amid concerns the state could lose sanctioned sporting events such as NCAA tournaments and face other economic backlash but instead passed a pair of executive orders for K-12 sports and university athletes seeking the same effect.

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Terry Schilling, president of American Principles Project, a conservative think tank, issued a statement praising the signing of the law.

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"Gov. Noem and South Dakota legislators deserve a great deal of credit for passing this strong legislation, despite some hiccups last year. We thank them for standing up for equal opportunities for their state's women and girl athletes, and we urge lawmakers in states without such protections to get to work on passing them immediately," said Schilling.

The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday described the law as "cruel and dangerous" and noted that Arizona, Indiana and Missouri are all moving forward with legislation "that attacks trans student-athletes, and bills that ban gender-affirming care for trans youth."

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"Politicians across the nation are trying to send the message that trans people don't belong in their communities, exactly as they are," the ACLU said. "If we don't want to live in a country that lets politicians attack children and try to push trans people out of public life, now is the time to be loud about it."

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