Montana’s governor has signed a bill that bans transgender athletes from competing on school and university sports teams that correspond with their gender.
Greg Gianforte’s signing on Friday makes Montana the latest Republican-controlled state to approve such legislation.
Conservative lawmakers in state capitols across the US have proposed more than 80 laws this year targeting trans people, the majority of them seeking to ban trans children from certain sports teams or limit youth access to gender affirming health care.
Supporters of the sports bills have said that they will ensure the playing field in girls’ sports remains fair. But there is no research suggesting that trans girls have an unfair advantage in school sports.
When the Associated Press recently contacted lawmakers behind the proposed bans, most couldn’t cite a single local example of a trans girl playing sports. Some pointed to a Connecticut case in which cisgender girls’ families sued, alleging that two trans female sprinters had an unfair advantage. But two days after that lawsuit was filed, one of the cis girls beat her trans competitor in a state championship race.
“If you look at the legislature’s justification for advancing the transgender sports ban, they could cite not one instance where transgender participation in athletics has been a problem or caused conflict,” said Alex Rate, legal director of ACLU of Montana.
Rate called the Montana law “patently unconstitutional”.
The bill had received widespread opposition from business leaders, physicians, athletes, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. “This bill unfairly targets trans youth and puts millions of federal education dollars at risk. It is an unnecessary and harmful policy that comes at a massive cost to the state,” said Shawn Reagor, director of equality and economic justice with the Montana Human Rights Network.
Gianforte said last week that he had met with transgender people and athletes while considering whether to sign the bill.
Lawmakers in more than 20 states have considered similar sports bans, and they have become law in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia. Idaho’s law was blocked by a court ruling last year. Governors in North Dakota and Kansas have vetoed similar measures.
So far, sixteen anti-LGBTQ+ legislative proposals have been enacted this year, the highest-ever number of such bills signed into law in a single year, the Human Rights Campaign said on Friday. Eight of the laws specifically target trans people.
Trans youth athletes have increasingly spoken out about the proposed bans in their states, with one 12-year-old girl in Utah, who is trans and a swimmer, recently telling the Guardian, “It’s a piece of your life that you work so hard for, and for it just to be taken away is hard. It just seems that [the lawmakers] only care about what’s in my pants and not about all the stuff I can bring to the team and all my hard work.”
Montana’s Republican-controlled Legislature approved the measure last month, after it was amended to become void if the federal government withholds education funding from the state over gender discrimination and an appeal by the state fails.
Joe Biden signed an executive order his first day in office banning discrimination based on gender, raising concern among officials in the Montana university system that $350m in education funding could be on the line if the measure is signed into law.
A spokesperson for Gianforte did not immediately respond to a request for comment.