With a hat trick of three anti-transgender bills through the legislature in recent days (on top of existing legalized discrimination in several other laws), Arkansas is on its way to becoming the modern-day version of Alabama in denial of civil rights to an oppressed minority.
Even South Dakota has distanced itself from Arkansas with the failure today of its bill to ban transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports.
It’s kind of a funny turn of events for a state led by one of the farthest-right, Trump-like governors in the U.S., Kristi Noem.
It was a winding road to the death of that bill in South Dakota. A release from the Human Rights Campaign tells the full story well.
SOUTH DAKOTA — Today, the South Dakota legislature voted to kill the changes made by South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem’s style-and-form veto of HB 1217, the anti-transgender sports ban bill that she had previously expressed excitement about signing. While this temporarily ends the threat of this legislation, Governor Noem has threatened a special session to address this made up problem. Noem took objection to the inclusion of collegiate sports in the participation ban, citing fears of economic repercussions due to the NCAA’s previous threats to pull tournaments and events from states that pass anti-LGBTQ and specifically anti-transgender laws. Noem also feared potential litigation — a burden that would fall on taxpayers to fund, calling the bill “a trial-lawyer’s dream.” A similar bill is currently facing litigation in Idaho. Noem’s earlier backtrack, by even an extreme governor with national political aspirations, exposes the economic, legal, and reputational threats these bills pose to other states considering anti-transgender legislation.
The legislative fight to pass discriminatory anti-transgender legislation has been fast and furious, led by national groups aiming to stymie LGBTQ progress made on the national level and in many states. There are so far 192 anti-LGBTQ bills under consideration in state legislatures across the country. Of those, 93 directly target transgender people and about half of those would, like HB 1217, ban transgender girls and women from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.
“Let this be a lesson to governors considering anti-transgender legislation: anti-transgender bills are too much of a risk even for one of the country’s most extreme governors,” said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David. “This bill, in addition to being dangerous and discriminatory, posed a serious threat to South Dakota in the way of economic, legal, and reputational harms. For all of her rhetorical support of this dangerous legislation, Governor Noem’s concerns about this bill were serious and valid and the legislature should have never sent it to her desk. Even Governor Noem saw the writing on the wall, and other governors considering putting their states at risk should take heed of this warning. Transgender kids are kids. They deserve the chance to play. Governor Noem should know that calling a special session to continue this legislative fight would be a waste of valuable legislative time and energy that should be used to address the real and serious problems the state of South Dakota faces in the midst of challenging times like these.”
Gov. Noem’s winding path from “excited to sign” to a veto
- On March 8th, Governor Noem tweeted that she was “excited to sign this bill,” in reference to HB 1217, using the occasion of International Women’s Day to state her support for the bill under the fallacious frame of “protecting women’s sports.”
- On March 11th, South Dakota Senator Reynold Nesiba expressed concern about losing an Amazon fulfillment center currently under construction in Sioux Falls and the 1,000 jobs that are promised to come along with it. A Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce spokesperson responded by saying that the local chamber is “very aware of the situation.”
- Also on March 11th, transgender advocates marched at the Capitol in Pierre, South Dakota in protest of the bill. Later that day, Governor Noem pivoted from her earlier “excitement” to sign HB 1217, saying “we are still examining the bill.”
- On March 16th, President of the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce Dave Owen publicly opposed the legislation, calling it “the worst bill that passed this session” and a day later, groups sent a letter urging Noem to veto HB 1217, including the Director of Public Policy for the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce, who cited potential economic fallout.
- On March 19th, Governor Noem issued a style-and-form veto of HB 1217 with several substantive changes, including striking provisions that pertain to collegiate bans on transgender participation in sports, and sent it back to the legislature.
- Argus Leader reporter Stu Whitney described Noem’s veto this way: “Shorter version: This bill is so ill-conceived, poorly written and damaging to South Dakota that I can’t sign it even though it would boost my national conservative political profile.”
- South Dakota’s Republican legislative leadership issued a joint press release condemning Noem’s “unprecedented interpretation of the…style and form veto” as an abuse of power.
Noem held a press conference standing alongside known anti-LGBTQ extremists to justify her veto
- In a press conference, Governor Noem announced the creation of a coalition to “Defend Title IX Now” which appears to be a national list-building exercise by Noem, with a website created a day earlier by someone in Ohio (coincidentally, Governor Noem’s campaign website was created by Ohio political consultants The Aventine Group). This website’s “paid for by” disclaimer refers to a committee that was not yet registered with the Federal Election Commission or the South Dakota Secretary of State’s office.
- When asked in the press conference why she was pressing a ban on transgender student athletes when there are no transgender players currently competing in secondary school sports in South Dakota, Gov. Noem replied “it’s an issue because people are talking about it and for the future.”
- Among the speakers in today’s press conference was former NFL player Jack Brewer who, in March of 2020, said that he opposed President Barack Obama for “normaliz[ing] the black gay culture.”
- Noem said of HB 1217, that it was a “trial lawyer’s dream” that would open the state to litigation in its current form and expressed concern for NCAA repercussions, saying “if we’re going beyond [K-12] to the collegiate level…just know that we could face retaliation — it’s more than likely, and at that point, we would have to sue, which is a cost to the taxpayers.”
From praise to condemnation from anti-equality extremist groups
When announcing her support for signing the legislation, Noem quote-tweeted the American Principles Project.
But only weeks later, American Principles Project shared their condemnation of Governor Noem’s style-and-form veto of HB 1217, saying that she “[broke] her word,” “[froze] out advocates of HB 1217 and instead [took] advice from the bill’s most vocal critics,” and that “[b]y standing with Joe Biden and the radical left against protecting women’s sports, Noem has irreparably damaged her standing with both her own constituents as well as Americans nationally… This betrayal will have political consequences.”
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group, went from support to condemnation as well, saying in a statement that Governor Noem “abuse[d]” her veto power to “cave to ‘woke’ corporate ideology.” They similarly called Noem’s actions a “betrayal” and characterized today’s press conference as damage control to rehabilitate her “credibility and political image.”
In reaction to today’s press conference, Sean Davis, co-founder of the conservative publication The Federalist tweeted: “Stop making excuses and insulting everyone’s intelligence and sign the bill already. This is embarrassing.”