By Dan Avery, March 11, 2021, NBC News

Proponents say they are protecting women’s sports, but LGBTQ advocates say the law could open up trans youth to more harassment and violence.

On Thursday, Gov. Tate Reeves signed “the Mississippi Fairness Act” into law, requiring the state’s schools to designate teams by sex assigned at birth and prohibiting transgender student athletes from participating in school sports in accordance with their gender identity.

In a March 4 tweet, Reeves said the law would “protect young girls from being forced to compete with biological males for athletic opportunities.”

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Angela Hill, told The Associated Press that she had been approached by “numerous coaches” who felt there was a need for a policy “because they are beginning to have some concerns of having to deal with this.”

Neither Hill nor other supporters of the bill presented evidence of transgender athletes competing in Mississippi schools or universities. Reeves and Hill are Republicans.

One state resident, Katy Binstead, said in a news conference last week, however, that the law will make things even harder for her transgender daughter, who “faces bullying on a daily basis” at her middle school.

Binstead said her daughter asked to join the girls basketball team, but the principal told her in a message that used her daughter’s deadname that “the district requires her to play on the boys team because of the gender on her birth certificate,” she said. “My daughter isn’t comfortable playing with the boys, because she’s not a boy, and she never has been a boy.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said Reeves’ has “done Mississippi students real harm.”

“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 in a statement. “Gov. 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.”

The law will go into effect July 1, though legal challenges are expected.

Jennifer Pizer, law and policy director at the LGBTQ civil rights group Lambda Legal said that “litigation is always on the table when we see a state or the federal government target our community.”

Mississippi is the second state to enact such a ban, after Idaho did last year, and at least 20 other states are considering similar legislation.

In a tweet on Monday, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, said she was excited to sign a nearly identical bill “very soon.” The measure, which the South Dakota Senate approved 20 to 15, would also require students to submit a written statement affirming their sex “as ascertained at or before birth in accordance with the student’s genetics and reproductive biology.”

Opponents claimed such legislation addresses a problem that doesn’t exist and could cost states millions of dollars in lost business and tourism revenue.

In 2016, after North Carolina passed House Bill 2, which prohibited transgender people from using public restrooms that aligned with their gender identity, corporations including Adidas and PayPal scuttled plans for expansion into the state and performers announced boycotts. The sports world responded, as well, with the NCAA relocating its March Madness basketball championship rounds outside North Carolina.

There are an estimated 149 anti-LGBTQ bills under consideration in state legislatures across the country, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a leading LGBTQ civil rights group, including 76 that directly target transgender people and 37 that prohibit transgender girls and women from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.

Until now, Idaho’s Fairness in Women’s Sports Act has been the only trans-athlete ban to become law. Signed last March by Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, it, too, mandates that “biological sex” be the only determining factor for student athletics at public schools and universities.

The ACLU filed suit against the Idaho law in April on behalf of Lindsay Hecox, a transgender cross-country runner at Boise State University. The organization contends the act violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

A federal judge granted a motion preventing the law from being enforced while the case goes before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Pizer said other states would be wise to see how the Idaho suit pans out “before rushing into any laws.”

“There will definitely be important guidance from that case,” she told NBC News. “We hope these governors pause before they invite the same litigation.” Pizer acknowledges some proponents would like nothing more than to have their day in court.

“There are some extreme right-wing advocacy groups who hope to take a suite of reactionary issues to the Supreme Court,” Pizer said. “They rejoiced at seeing three Trump nominees appointed and seem convinced the court will assuredly embrace an anti-LGBT agenda.”

She pointed out that, in contrast to that expectation, it was a Trump appointee, Neil Gorsuch, who wrote the majority opinion in a 2020 case that determined that protections against sex discrimination included sexual orientation and gender identity.

In his first day in office, President Joe Biden issued an executive order directing federal agencies to apply that Surpreme Court ruling to other laws that prohibit sex discrimination, including Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which greatly expanded women and girl’s access to school athletics.

“Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports,” the order stated.

Last week, the Biden administration indicated it believes laws like Idaho’s Fairness in Women’s Sports Act are unconstitutional.

“The president believes that trans rights are human rights, and that no one should be discriminated on the basis of sex,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told The Washington Blade at a news briefing last Friday. “Not only is this the law of the land, it’s his own deeply held view.”

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