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Noem: Changes to transgender sports law necessary to defend state from legal challenges

Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at a press conference discussing transgender athletes in women's sports...
Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at a press conference discussing transgender athletes in women's sports on March 22 in Sioux Falls.(Dakota News Now)
Published: Mar. 22, 2021 at 10:10 AM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Gov. Kristi Noem has laid out her case for her proposed changes to a law limiting how transgender athletes can compete in South Dakota, saying they are necessary to defend the state against potential legal challenges.

Noem also framed the bill as part of an effort to protect women’s sports, saying she is launching a “coalition” to defend Title IX.

The Republican governor spoke at a press conference in Sioux Falls Monday alongside former professional athletes and other bill supporters, including a number of local female high school and college athletes. Former NFL players Herschel Walker and Jack Brewer both spoke via video conference, and former LPGA golfer Nancy Lopez wrote a statement in support of Noem.

At issue was House Bill 1217, a bill passed by the state legislature prohibiting transgender female athletes from competing in sports in South Dakota. Noem initially signaled she would sign the bill. However, on Friday, she sent the bill back to the legislature with several changes dampening elements of the law. The changes garnered criticism from both conservative supporters of the bill as well as its opponents, who said the bill remains discriminatory against transgender women.

On Monday, Noem said even though she supports HB 1217, she does not believe it will hold up in court. Noem likened it to a “participation trophy,” saying that knowingly signing a bill that will be struck down would “hurt” South Dakota.

One key change in Noem’s proposal is excluding college athletics from the bill. Noem said she spoke with legal scholars who said South Dakota’s chances of winning a lawsuit against the NCAA are “very low,” noting that it is a private organization.

Noem also announced the launch of the “Defend Title IX Now” coalition, and issued a public request asking supporters to sign on. The group’s website states “only girls should play girls’ sports.” The governor described the coalition as a sort of broader effort to take on the issue at a national level.

“Once we have enough states on board, a coalition big enough where the NCAA cannot possibly punish us all, then we can guarantee fairness at the collegiate level,” Noem said.

Throughout the briefing, Noem repeatedly characterized the bill as part of an effort to protect fairness in women’s sports. Several supporters spoke during the briefing echoing these sentiments, saying it would be unfair for women to compete against transgender women who are physically stronger.

One critique cited by opponents of the bill throughout the process is the small number of student-athletes it would actually impact. South Dakota High School Activities Association Director Dan Swartos spoke against the bill, saying there are currently no transgender athletes competing in girls’ sports at the K-12 level in the state. However, Noem said Monday that this is indeed an important issue because “a lot of people are talking about it and concerned about it,’ and that “we could, in the near future, have a situation where we are dealing with it on a daily basis in South Dakota.”

Noem also took issue with the characterization of the law as a “transgender bill,” saying putting it in that context would be “completely inaccurate.” However, when a reporter noted that the only people this would affect are transgender athletes, Noem deferred to Walker, who then specifically voiced concern about transgender athletes. He then said if he identified as a woman, he believes he could compete in the Olympics.

Watch the full press conference below.

Noem discussing transgender sports law

Gov. Kristi Noem is holding a press briefing to discuss her proposed changes to a law impacting how transgender athletes can compete in South Dakota sports.

Posted by Dakota News Now on Monday, March 22, 2021

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