SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — While several states continue to debate whether to ban transgender girls from sports, South Dakota and Iowa are the first two states in the nation to sign legislation banning transgender athletes from competition into law in 2022.
On Thursday Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed HF 2416 into law to prohibit transgender girls from participating in female sports at all levels of education in the state. This comes exactly one month after South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem signed a similar bill into law.
“No amount of talent, training or effort can make up for the natural physical advantages males have over females. It’s simply a reality of human biology,” Reynolds said Thursday as she signed the bill. When a reporter asked Reynolds whether there were any instances of transgender girls in Iowa outperforming cisgender athletes the governor could not provide an example.
The laws from South Dakota and Iowa are similar in language and will prevent anyone who was not female at birth from participating in female sports. Both bills would also allow students who “suffer direct or indirect harm” due to violations of the law to pursue private action against institutions. Each state will provide the student with reasonable attorney fees and the Attorney Generals will provide legal representation at no contest to those who bring lawsuits against institutions as a result of complying with the law.
One key difference between the two states is that Iowa’s law pertains to every school in the state, private or public, as well as community colleges, universities and other accredited institutions. South Dakota’s law only applies to accredited schools under the control of the South Dakota Board of Regents and the Board of Technical Education. The Iowa bill is also already in effect while South Dakota’s law will take effect July 1, 2022.
While South Dakota and Iowa are the only states to sign these bills into law this year, there are several states across the country debating similar pieces of legislation. Indiana’s participation in school sports bill has passed out of the legislature and is heading to the governor’s desk for signature. The bills in Kansas, Missouri, Utah, Tennessee, Wyoming, Arizona, Georgia and Missouri are still passing through the legislative process.
As Tennessee seeks to pass legislation on transgender athletes in sports, they are also currently in the middle of litigation with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) over a 14-year-old student in Knoxville, Tennessee. Luc Esquivel is a 14-year-old golfer who was hoping to participate on the high school boys golf team but was unable to after Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill into law that would ban transgender middle and high school students from sports. The lawsuit was filed in November of 2021.
Tennesse has 14 bills total regarding transgender people, one of which would withhold funds from schools if they do not comply with legislation.
Impact on mental health of LGBTQ youth
It’s not just sports bills passing through legislators, either. In states like Alabama, Oklahoma, and Utah there is legislation introduced that seeks to prohibit access to gender-affirming health care for minors and preventing changes from being made to the birth certificates of transgender individuals. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott recently ordered state officials to investigate the parents of transgender children for child abuse.
Susan Williams, founder and executive director of the Transformation Project Advocacy Network, says that these bills target transgender people and their families and stops them from being a part of public life.
“It seems as though there is an attempt of erasure of transgender people in this country,” Williams said.
LGBTQ organizations like the Trevor Project say that anti-trans legislation is impacting the mental health of transgender and non-binary people negatively across the country. A 2021 survey from the organization found that 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth have had negative impacts on their mental health due to legislation across the country regarding transgender people.
That same survey found that of the nearly 35,000 people surveyed, 42% of LGBTQ youth considered suicide in the past year. Transgender youth considered suicide at a much higher rate than their peers with 52% considering it and 20% attempting suicide.
South Dakota has the highest rate of depression among LGBTQ residents of all ages according to a survey from HelpAdvisor. The survey found that 38,162 out of 43,234 residents reported experiencing depression.
“Any time we see anti-trans legislation pop up in our sessions we see an increase of bullying across the schools in South Dakota, we see an increase in mental health issues because of the way that trans people are being depicted and the way that they are being treated,” Williams said. “We see a fear of ‘what’s next for me and my family? Is this a safe place to live?”
In Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Joe Biden expressed support to LGBTQ Americans and mentioned the many bills in state legislatures saying they were “wrong” for “targeting” transgender Americans and their families.
“As I said last year, especially to our younger transgender Americans, I will always have your back as your President, so you can be yourself and reach your God-given potential,” Biden said.
Biden also called on lawmakers to get the Equality Act to his desk to sign. The bill would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to also prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity in public accommodations, education, funding, employment and more. The bill passed the House in 2021 but has remained in the Senate Judiciary Committee since.
As legislative sessions continue, organizations like the Transformation Project have seen increased interest and support in resources. That includes Marty’s Closet, a free clothing boutique in Sioux Falls for the transgender community, Williams said. Moving forward, Williams says the Transformation Project is focused on answering requests for help and resources as well as connecting transgender people in South Dakota with each other.
“We’re connecting them to community and the resources that they need,” Williams said. “Just letting them know that we’re there for them to talk or to fight for them in legislative session and just to be there for them when they need it.”