Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill into law Wednesday banning transgender girls and women from playing on female sports teams, cementing the state as the the 13th nationwide to enact such a measure.
As he signed the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” Stitt was surrounded by young girls, female athletes and other conservative lawmakers holding signs that read “Save women’s sports.” He said that enacting the measure “is just common sense.”
“When it comes to sports and athletics: Girls should compete against girls. Boys should compete against boys,” Stitt, a Republican, said. ”Let’s be very clear — that’s all this bill says.”
“We are protecting women’s sports. We’re ensuring a level playing field for female athletes who work hard to train hard, who are committed to their team, who have dreams to be No. 1 in their sport, who deserve a fair competition,” he continued. “The reality is, men are biologically different than women.”
The governor’s signing of the measure comes amid a nationwide culture war over LGBTQ, and particularly transgender, issues.
Between Jan. 1 and March 15, state lawmakers proposed a record 238 bills that would limit the rights of LGBTQ people — or more than three per day — with about half of them targeting transgender people specifically, according to an NBC News analysis of data from the American Civil Liberties Union and the LGBTQ advocacy group Freedom for All Americans.
Just this week — and after an outcry from LGBTQ advocates, the White House and Hollywood — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that prohibits “classroom instruction … on sexual orientation or gender identity” in “kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”
This year’s historic tally quickly follows what some advocates had labeled the “worst year in recent history for LGBTQ state legislative attacks,” when 191 bills were proposed last year.
Measures that would block trans students from competing on school sports teams that align with their gender identity have been among the most successful of the anti-LGBTQ bills filed in recent years, with more than a dozen becoming law nationwide.
This year, prior to Oklahoma, lawmakers in South Dakota, Iowa and Utah enacted trans athlete bills. Arizona’s governor signed a similar sports measure on Wednesday, shortly after Oklahoma’s bill was signed.
Not all efforts to enact sports bans have been successful.
Last year, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican, vetoed a sports bill, citing “no evidence” of the danger trans athletes pose to female sports.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, vetoed his state’s version of the legislation this month, saying that it “falls short” of providing a consistent statewide policy for what he called “fairness in K-12 sports.” However, Indiana legislators have enough votes to override his veto and enact the bill, though they have not yet moved to do so.
Proponents of trans sports bans, including Stitt, say that they are protecting fairness in women’s sports, arguing that trans girls and women have inherent advantages over cisgender girls and women.
Critics say the measures are less about protecting women’s sports and more about “solving a problem that does not exist.”
The Oklahoma measure is “one of many bills we have seen attacking” the state’s trans and nonbinary communities, “while overlooking the real issues with gender equality in sports when it comes to funding, resources, pay equity, and more,” Tamya Cox-Touré, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, said in a statement Wednesday. “Promoting baseless fears about trans athletes does nothing to address those real problems.”
“Transgender people belong everywhere, but with the swipe of a pen and a public display, Governor Stitt has sent a clear message to Oklahoma’s vulnerable transgender youth that they are not welcome or accepted in our State,” Cox-Touré continued.
The debate over trans athletes has also been catapulted into the nation’s culture wars following the success of the University of Pennsylvania transgender swimmer Lia Thomas.
Thomas became the first trans athlete to win an NCAA championship this month, placing first in the 500-yard freestyle race at the Division I finals in Atlanta, after a successful season on the Penn women’s swimming and diving team.
Without mentioning her by name, Stitt referenced Thomas in his decision to sign the bill.
“We all saw the imagery with the Penn swimmer and we don’t want that to happen to this young lady right here beside me when she grows up and gets into high school,” he said, gesturing to one of the young girls surrounding him. “We’re making that stand today in the state of Oklahoma.”
The law took effect immediately upon Stitt’s signing.
However, it could face legal challenges. In July, a federal court temporarily prevented West Virginia’s version of the law from taking effect after the ACLU filed a lawsuit against it.