Gov. Kristi Noem signs trans athlete ban into law

A year after Gov. Kristi Noem vetoed a similar bill, she signed a measure she says is needed to ensure fairness in women's sports. Many, however, see the measure as discriminatory to equal rights of transgender athletes.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signs a bill Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, that allows litigation against schools and activities associations that would allow transgender girls and women to compete in sports aligning with their identified sex.
Christopher Vondracek / Forum News Service

PIERRE, S.D. — On a wooden desk under the statehouse rotunda, Gov. Kristi Noem signed a measure Thursday, Feb. 3, effectively banning transgender girls and women from participating in female sports, fulfilling a promise that eluded her and the South Dakota Legislature a year ago.

"We will ensure we have fairness at the K-12 level and the university level," said Noem, who spoke briefly before a gathering of legislators.

The law bans transgender athletes from participating in sex-segregated sports, and stipulates that participants must compete according to the sex listed on their birth certificates. The law goes into effect July 1.

The mechanism by which the law enforces this ban is through litigation. If schools, schools district or activities associations are sued for complying with the law, the state will pay for the legal defense. Likewise, if schools or activity associations don't comply, they're also open to lawsuits.

Only one transgender individual has competed in over 10 years in the state. But Noem said a current state activities association policy, which already created a high bar for athletes, wasn't enough of a barrier.


"I'm not confident that this wasn't an issue in South Dakota," Noem said in response to a reporter's question.

When pressed on the bill's controversy, Noem shot back: "It's not a tough topic, really."

Thursday's signing ceremony caps a roller-coaster performance from Noem and the Legislature on the issue of transgender females in sports. A year ago, a measure requiring athletes to compete in sex-segregated sports according to their birth was killed by Noem's style-and-form veto.

There were some notable absences at Thursday's signing event, including last year's prime sponsor of the "fairness in sports" measure in the House, Rep. Rhonda Milstead, R-Hartford, and other GOP leaders from the House and Senate.

South Dakota becomes the 11th state to pass legislation that restricts transgender athletes' participation in sports to their biological sex at the time of their birth.

Christopher Vondracek is the South Dakota correspondent for Forum News Service. Contact Vondracek at , or follow him on Twitter: @ChrisVondracek .

The state's biggest political leaders have touted inbound migration, so-called "blue state refugees" who flooded South Dakota. But the biggest driver of partisan races this coming summer and fall appears to be a redistricting process, log-jamming Republicans in primaries and opening up new turf for Democrats.

Christopher Vondracek covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at or follow him on Twitter at @ChrisVondracek.
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