JACKSON • Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed legislation Thursday that bans transgender athletes from playing in girls or women’s athletics.

The Republican was flanked by more than two dozen mostly conservative lawmakers in the signing ceremony at the Capitol. Mississippi is the first state to enact this ban, though dozens of similar proposals have recently been filed around the country, even after a court blocked a similar law in Idaho last year.

Reeves said Senate Bill 2536, the Mississippi Fairness Act, is necessary after President Joe Biden banned discrimination based on gender identity in school sports, the military and elsewhere. But neither he nor the bill’s author, Sen. Angela Hill, R-Picayune, could name a specific instance where a transgender athlete playing on a women’s team has occurred in Mississippi.

Biden’s order “encourages transgenderism amongst our young people,” Reeves claimed, which he said forced him and Republican lawmakers to take action.

“We view this as presenting an unfair challenge to biological girls who wish to join sports teams,” he said. “I have three young daughters of my own. Many of you have heard me talk about how much enjoyment we all get as a family, watching them play ball.”

Reeves added: “This legislation will work to create a fair playing field for the female athletes of our state.”

The transgender bans in Mississippi and elsewhere have drawn harsh criticism from LGBTQ rights groups. The Human Rights Campaign on Thursday responded to Reeves’ signing by tweeting, “Trans kids deserve better.” The group added that the legislation amounted to “transphobia.”

“He turned his back on his constituents and made Mississippi a symbol of hate,” the organization wrote.

“SB 2536 aims to solve a problem that does not exist, while codifying discrimination against transgender athletes,” ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director Jarvis Dortch, a former state lawmaker, said in a February statement. “Transgender people of all ages have been participating in sports consistent with their gender at all levels for years, and no dominance by trans athletes has been observed or documented.”

Hill, the bill’s author, characterized her legislation as standing up for women. She referenced Title IX, the federal law that banned sex-based discrimination at public schools, including related to sports teams.

“I have spoken with coaches, and coaches know it’s not fair for biological males to compete on female teams in Mississippi,” Hill told reporters after the bill signing. “It’s just a good day for women’s rights in Mississippi.”

But Hill said she did not know of any specific instances of transgender athletes trying out for women’s sports. She did say that coaches have told her it is an “imminent problem in Mississippi, and that’s basically all the details they were willing to give me.”

LUKE RAMSETH is a Jackson-based reporter covering the 2021 session of the Mississippi Legislature for the Daily Journal. Email him at lramseth@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @lramseth.

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