Sparking a swift flood of condemnation, Mississippi's Republican governor on Thursday signed into a law a bill requiring schools statewide to bar transgender student athletes from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity—the first of what critics warn could soon be a nationwide wave of legislation attacking LGBTQ+ rights.
Gov. Tate Reeves claimed last week that S.B. 2536, or "the Mississippi Fairness Act," would "protect young girls from being forced to compete with biological males for athletic opportunities." He also said that "the push for kids to adopt transgenderism is just wrong" and slammed a recent executive order from President Joe Biden which said that "children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports."
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, responded by first addressing those most affected by the Mississippi law.
"To the transgender students in Mississippi who have been attacked by this legislation, you belong, we see you, and we will do everything we can to support you," Keisling said. "Reeves' actions today are unjust and discriminatory. He has targeted transgender kids and added to their burden, opening them up to more harassment, abuse, and violence.
"Transgender students should be allowed to live their lives without fear and out of the shadows," Keisling added. "Reeves has done Mississippi students real harm."
#Trans youth already face crushing obstacles in school, incl. bullying & discrimination. Instead of focusing on making schools better & supporting their residents during a pandemic, MS has decided to further attack these vulnerable kids. SAD. #LetKidsPlayhttps://t.co/s6XN9RT5pz
— NCLR – National Center for Lesbian Rights (@NCLRights) March 11, 2021
Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Alphonso David said that "Reeves' eagerness to become the face of the latest anti-transgender push is appalling, as he chooses fear and division over facts and science."
"This law is a solution in search of a problem, and legislators in Mississippi have not provided any examples of Mississippi transgender athletes gaming the system for a competitive advantage because none exist," David continued, also challenging the governor's claim that the law is necessary pushback against the Biden order by noting that 35 anti-transgender sports bills were introduced under his predecessor.
"Bullying transgender kids is no way to govern the state out of the crises they face," David added. "Transgender kids deserve better and so does Mississippi."
HRC Mississippi state director Rob Hill accused Reeves of "enthusiastically signing this bill to sow fear and division," and warned of its impact.
"Every kid deserves the opportunity to learn the values of participation, team work, and work ethic that come with youth sports," said Hill. "By making this harmful bill the law in Mississippi, Gov. Reeves is openly welcoming discrimination and putting the lives of transgender kids in danger."
According to GLSEN, an educational organization that works to end discrimination and harassment of LGBTQ+ people:
For all students, having the opportunity to participate in sports results in positive outcomes, including physical development, social skills, and psychological well-being. The psychological benefits of sports specifically include improved emotional regulation, decreased hopelessness and suicidality, fewer depressive symptoms, and higher self-esteem. Research has also found that sports participation is related to greater feelings of school belonging and pro-school behaviors.
GLSEN notes that transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming youth often face barriers to participating in sports, referencing a 2017 survey in which only 11.5% of trans/nonbinary/GNC students said that their school had policies to support them—and of those students, only 42.4% said there were guidelines for inclusive athletics.
Although Mississippi is currently the only state to impose such a ban—a similar measure in Idaho was blocked by a federal court last year—Reeves' signature came after South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, also a Republican, tweeted Monday that she was "excited" to sign a bill barring transgender girls and women from participating in female sports leagues "very soon."
Keep raising pressure on @govkristinoem. HB1217 will intrude upon the bodies of all athletes in South Dakota and open the door to policing of and discrimination against trans girls and any young person who does not conform to sex stereotypes. #VetoHB1217 https://t.co/o4b5GLsrD7
— Chase Strangio (@chasestrangio) March 11, 2021
"The attacks against transgender youth in South Dakota and Mississippi and other states are abhorrent," said Sasha Buchert, senior attorney and co-director of Lambda Legal's Transgender Rights Project.
These bills are not only "harmful and dangerous" as well as "gratuitous distractions from the multiple, serious crises in these states," Buchert explained, "they are also the latest in a vicious and unending campaign to strip our communities of their rights and dignity. Having failed to ban us from bathrooms and to deny us equal protection in the workplace, they now have turned to going after transgender children, a new, but sadly unsurprising, low."
"To trans youth in South Dakota, Mississippi, and all across the country, trust that there is an entire community of people who celebrate you, stand with you, and believe you deserve to feel safe and respected," added Buchert, vowing that Lambda Legal "will keep fighting until every trans youth can fully participate on their team, in their school, and in the world."
The ACLU, which sued over the Idaho law, pointed out in a tweet that the Mississippi measure is just "the first of what could be a national wave of anti-trans legislation."
The first of what could be a national wave of anti-trans legislation just became law.
— ACLU (@ACLU) March 11, 2021
NBC News reports that state legislatures are considering nearly 150 anti-LGBTQ bills, "including 76 that directly target transgender people and 37 that prohibit transgender girls and women from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity."
Such proposals include a bill recently introduced in Michigan targeting trans high school athletes as well as a measure in Maine that would bar transgender girls and women from participating in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary school sports.
"As Mainers we all want fairness in school sports, but this bill isn't fair, it's harmful to young people," said Gia Drew, program director at EqualityMaine. "Not only would the bill exclude some girls and young women from important developmental opportunities because of who they are, it would subject any girl who wants to challenge that exclusion to a prying and privacy-invading medical exam."