PIERRE, S.D. — The potential ramifications of an economic boycott to South Dakota continue to hover over the state as a transgender sports bill awaits Gov. Kristi Noem's signature.
On Thursday, March 11, at an end-of-the-session news conference, Sen. Reynold Nesiba, a Sioux Falls Democrat, wondered if not only the city's investment in attracting collegiate sports championships — such as the recently completed Summit League men's and women's basketball tournament — might be damaged as leagues boycott the state over a controversial sports bill, but if broader economic backlash might ensue.
"I'm frankly a little worried about Amazon," said Nesiba, noting the Seattle-based company, with a track record of supporting LGBTQ rights might, pull out of constructing a fulfillment center proposed to open next year in Sioux Falls that's expected to bring in 1,000 jobs.
"I'm just worried about our perception, said Nesiba, "because I think, generally, South Dakotans are a welcoming people."
Representatives for Amazon did not respond to a request for comment from Forum News Service. Nevertheless, Jennie Doyen, a spokeswoman for the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce, which has opposed the bill, told FNS that her organization was "very aware of this situation."
Any potential boycott of the state over a bill to limit transgender participation in sports is only speculative at this point.
Sitting to Nesiba's left on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Gary Cammack, R-Union Center disagreed, arguing he didn't believe there would be any "serious consequences to this (bill's passage)."
Nevertheless, Noem — who days ago sent a tweet invoking International Women's Day to say she was "excited" to sign House Bill 1217 — took a more measured tone Thursday, saying her office was "evaluating" the bill.
"I've heard (about the bill) from individuals, not businesses and not particularly from the NCAA," Noem said
Pushed by reporters as to her message to transgender girl athletes, the Republican governor said, "This bill isn't about transgender. It's about girls' fairness, and girls' sports."
The South Dakota Senate on Monday, March 8, passed by an easier-than-expected 20-to-15 margin House Bill 1217, an act to "promote continued fairness in women's sports." The measure requires sanctioned sports at high schools and colleges to be rooted in "biological sex," and prohibits transgender girls specifically from joining girls' teams.
The measure's prime sponsor, Rep. Rhonda Milstead, R-Hartford, introduced the bill, which is nearly identical to one passed in the Idaho legislature last year and signed by Gov. Brad Little. That law was ultimately blocked by a federal judge.
On Thursday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed a version of the bill in his state, with a legal challenge expected.
More than a dozen protesters flying pink-and-blue transgender flags rallied Thursday around a bronze statute of Sen. Mike Rounds in Pierre. Protesters said the bill will harm not only transgender children but also require a statewide registration system to document all student-athletes' sex organs.
"I know a lot of parents who are just absolutely disgusted by that concept," said Louise Snodgrass, an organizer with the Transformation Project and former legislative candidate in Brookings. "I think that there are a lot of parents who are concerned about the well-being of kids in general in sports (should this bill pass)."
Dylan Daniels of Vermillion, a transgender and two-spirit man, noted the bill doesn't directly implicate transgender male athletes, but he worried about anyone missing out on opportunities in youth sports because a state law prohibits them from competing according to their gender identity.
"I absolutely played sports growing up and as a trans man that was a really important outlet for me to express some of my more masculine traits that wouldn't have been acceptable in other places," Daniels said.
Proponents have said the bill is necessary to, in their words, save women's sports from the competitive advantages athletes born male may possess. According to the South Dakota High School Activities Association, only one transgender girl in nearly a decade of the agency's policy has been approved to play sports.
On Thursday, Nesiba said, as far as he understood, the athlete "did not dominate the sports she participated in."
In 2016, Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Noem's Republican predecessor, stared down a transgender-related bill that threatened access to bathrooms with a veto. In one high-profile instance, Daugaard sat down with transgender South Dakotans to hear their concerns about the bill.
On Thursday, Noem said she'd not been reached out to by any transgender individuals. Stephanie Marty, a board member with The Transformation Project who attended Thursday's protest in Pierre, said she'd been emailing Noem daily about the bill.
The Summit League in a statement to FNS earlier this week said they'd yet to spend "quality time" with the proposed law, and a spokesperson for the NCAA, who boycotted North Carolina after a discriminatory bill became law, said they were "monitoring" bills in South Dakota and other state legislatures.
Over 500 student-athletes have signed a letter calling on the NCAA Board of Governors to only host championships in states that are "inclusive" to all athletes.