Republican governor Kristi Noem launches TV ad attacking trans kids to win votes

South Dakota governor Kristi Noem speaks at a podium while dressed in a green outfit

South Dakota governor Kristi Noem has continued to wage an anti-trans campaign in the state, releasing an advert targeting student-athletes.

The ad, released on Wednesday (13 January), promotes a bill that effectively bans trans women and girls from playing on school sports teams aligned with their gender identity.

Noem declared on Twitter her bill will give “South Dakota the strongest law protecting female sports in the nation”. LGBT+ rights advocates have called it just another example of her “discriminatory rhetoric”.

The ad, which doesn’t directly mention trans people, began with the claim that “only girls play girls’ sports” in South Dakota.

“Why? Because of governor Kristi Noem’s leadership,” it added. “Noem has been protecting girls’ sports for years and never backed down.”

The 30-second ad, which also promotes Noem’s 2022 re-election campaign, claims that the governor’s “steady, conservative leadership doesn’t win headlines” but allegedly “wins results”.

Noem has long opposed allowing trans students to participate in school sports that align with their gender identity.

She vetoed a previous trans sports ban in March after it passed through the South Dakota legislature, claiming the legislature’s version of the bill could’ve left the state open to lawsuits and backlash from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Afterwards, Noem issued two executive orders to ban trans athletes from participating in girls’ and women’s sports teams at public high schools and universities.

In December, she filed draft legislation of a bill that would codify her anti-trans executive orders.

House Bill 1006 and Senate Bill 46 both would prevent trans girls from playing on girls’ sports teams in South Dakota.

The Republican-dominated Senate State Affairs committee passed Senate Bill 46 on Friday (14 January) and now moves to the full Senate for debate.

Jett Jonelis, advocacy manager for the ACLU of South Dakota, said the bill is attempting to “solve a problem that does not exist” while also “slamming the door shut” for trans student-athletes to “fully participate in their school communities”.

“Transgender students participate in sports for the same reasons other young people do: to challenge themselves, to stay fit and healthy and to be a part of a team,” Jonelis said. “Trans students’ humanity, dignity, and ability to be full members of their school communities should never be up for debate like this.”

Jennifer Phalen, whose trans daughter wants to participate in school gymnastics, told the committee that passage of the bill would “directly hurt children”, the Associated Press reported.

“It would directly hurt my daughter and take away her freedom to participate in activities with her peers,” she said.

She continued: “As a parent, I don’t really care if she becomes an elite athlete, but I want her to have the experiences of being on a team.”

South Dakota lawmakers have also introduced a third anti-trans bill, House Bill 1005, this year.

HB 1005 would allow cisgender students to sue schools if a trans student uses multi-occupancy public school facilities that affirm their gender. This includes bathrooms, shower facilities, changing rooms and sleeping facilities.

According to the ACLU of South Dakota, the bill has been assigned to the House State Affairs Committee and is awaiting a hearing date.