By Phillip Van Slooten

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed into law on Wednesday a bill banning the state’s transgender student-athletes from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.

Jace Pierce, a 35-year-old trans man who was born and raised in Mississippi who has since relocated to Oregon because of his wife’s job, was saddened by the news.

“I feel it just continues to further push the idea that transgender individuals are a threat, and that’s dangerous,” Pierce told the Washington Blade. “I can, at times, understand some concerns that people may have but that’s only because they are uninformed.”

The Rev. Brandiilyne Mangum-Dear, a 46-year-old cisgender lesbian, lives in Laurel, a city in Mississippi’s Pine Belt. She and her gender-fluid wife were both disappointed by Reeves’ decision to sign the bill, but they remain hopeful.

“We are incredibly saddened and angered by this bill, but we are not surprised. Unfortunately, this is the climate of our state. Bigotry and hate for the LGBTQAI community are deeply woven into the tapestry that is the south,” she said. “This bill, like the anti-LGBT bills that came before, will be a rallying point for our community.“

Senate Bill 2536, sponsored by state Sen. Angela Burks Hill (R-Marion, Pearl River Counties), is one of many anti-trans measures advancing through state legislatures across the country, according to Freedom for All Americans. SB 2536 is the first to be signed into law this year.

“This law is a solution in search of a problem, and legislators in Mississippi have not provided any examples of Mississippi transgender athletes gaming the system for a competitive advantage because none exist,” Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a press release. “While transgender athletes have been competing at every level for years without incident, Gov. Reeves is signing this bill while Mississippians continue to suffer and real issues go unaddressed.”

Mississippi Republicans currently hold a 2/3 majority over Democrats in both chambers of the state’s legislature. This bill passed both chambers along party lines in the state Senate but with some Democratic support in the House of Representatives.

The new law requires public schools, colleges and universities to “designate its athletic teams or sports according to biological sex.” It also bars government agencies, including accrediting and athletic associations, from taking adverse actions against public educational institutions that discriminate against trans student-athletes.

The law also states disputes regarding a student’s gender identity must be resolved by a physician attesting to the student’s sex “based solely upon” a check of the student’s reproductive anatomy, “endogenously produced levels of testosterone” and genetic makeup.

“If there’s one thing that we are passionate about in the Reeves family, it’s my daughters’ sports,” Reeves, a Republican, said in a Facebook post supporting the new restrictions. “I know that the lessons learned through team sports have led to so many successful lives and careers for women and have truly helped provide a more equal opportunity for success in our world.”

Human Rights Campaign Mississippi State Director Rob Hill, however, said in response to the new law that all children deserve an equal opportunity to participate in youth sports.

“Every kid deserves the opportunity to learn the values of participation, teamwork and work ethic that come with youth sports,” he stated on Wednesday during a press conference.

President Biden on Jan. 20 issued an executive order extending equal protection from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

The order stated that “children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports” and noted the “unconscionably high levels” of violence and discrimination that Black trans people in particular face.

Reeves, however, also stated in his Facebook post that he didn’t “understand why politicians are pushing children into transgenderism in the first place. And my heart breaks for the young women across America who will lose in this radical social experiment.”

Mangum-Dear condemned Reeves’ statements and actions as “transphobic.”

“Gov. Tate Reeves and many leaders in our state are transphobic bigots cloaked in pseudo-Christianity,” she said. “They choose hate and ignorance over love and truth. We stand firmly with our transgender family and will continue defend our community.”

The text of the anti-trans Mississippi ban cites support from Duke Law Professor and All-American track athlete Doriane Coleman, Martina Navratilova and Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross. All stated trans females have a “biological” advantage over cisgender women and “claims to the contrary are simply a denial of science.”

The bill also mentioned an often cited 2010 study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine that analyzed top Olympic performers in swimming and other events and found a persistent performance gap between cisgender males and females since 1983. The measure nevertheless failed to mention contrary or more recent research that either drills down into a particular sport like “Sex Differences in Youth Elite Swimming” from 2019 or compares performance in different events, such as “The Age-Related Performance Decline in Ironman Triathlon Starts Earlier in Swimming than in Cycling and Running” from 2018.

These studies, for example, found that an athlete’s age, build and the type of event were other important “biological” factors to consider as well when accounting for performance differences and changes over time.

The youth swimming study, in particular, found “there were no sex-related differences in swimming performance prior to age 10.”

‘SB 2536 isn’t about protecting fairness in women’s sports’

“Boys and girls always compete together from the moment they hit the playgrounds,” Pierce said. “It’s not until the adults who ‘know better’ and decide to step in to ‘correct’ that it becomes an issue.”

The Mississippi American Civil Liberties Union, however, stated in its Wednesday release that “SB 2536 isn’t about protecting fairness in women’s sports.”

“It’s about erasing and excluding trans people from participation in all aspects of public life,” the group stated. “It’s about creating solutions to problems that don’t exist. Not once have the supporters of this bill cited an actual dispute over this issue in Mississippi.”

HRC noted 55 major U.S. corporations such as Amazon, American Airlines, Apple, Nike and others oppose anti-trans legislation introduced in various state legislatures across the country. They also point out nearly 550 college athletes have demand the NCAA pull championships from states with anti-trans sports legislation.

More than 7 million youth-serving professionals and more than 1,000 child welfare groups also called for legislatures to oppose bills that target trans children, according to HRC.

“What makes SB 2536 so much worse than the routine fear-mongering is that it targets children. That cannot be lost in this discussion,” said the Mississippi ACLU in a statement. “Whatever your politics, we should all agree that ostracizing middle and high school kids is not something to celebrate.”

David added in HRC’s statement that “transgender kids deserve better and so does Mississippi.”

The law is slated to go into effect on July 1.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.