South Carolina becomes latest state to ban trans athletes in ‘needless’ attack

South Carolina governor Henry McMaster wears a white shirt, red tie and dark suit jacket as he speaks into a microphone on stage

South Carolina governor Henry McMaster has signed into law a bill banning trans students from fully participating in school athletics.

McMaster approved dozens of pieces of legislation, including House Bill 4608 (HB 4608), on Monday (16 May).

The bill, also called the “Save Women’s Sports Act”, requires student-athletes to play on sports teams that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificate received at or near the time of their birth.

The legislation applies to trans youth attending publicly-funded elementary school through to post-secondary educational institutions in South Carolina. Private schools are required to comply with the trans sports ban if they are competing against a public school or institution.

McMaster declared in a tweet on Tuesday (17 May) that the hateful measure is “now the law of the land in South Carolina”. He argued that the ban would “protect” cisgender youth competing against trans athletes – despite advocacy groups, sports governing bodies and experts saying trans participation in sports is a non-issue

“We have to do everything we can to protect the young men and women in our state who choose to pursue athletic competition, and that’s why I proudly signed this bill into law yesterday,” McMaster wrote. 

“It’s common sense, boys should play boys sports and girls should play girls sports.”

However, LGBTQ+ advocates and experts have hit back at McMaster’s statement and said the measure singles out trans youth who are just trying to fully participate in daily life. 

Ivy Hill – executive director of Gender Benders and the community health program director of campaign for Southern Equality – said it “pains us” to see lawmakers “ignore the voices of thousands of South Carolinians” that flagged how the bill will “harm young people in our state”. 

“Transgender youth are not a threat to fairness in sports, and this law now needlessly stigmatises young people who are simply trying to navigate their adolescence, make friends, and build skills like teamwork and leadership, winning and losing,” Hill said.

Dr Elizabeth Mack, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, condemned the legislation for not making decisions “based on evidence” or listening to “our state’s experts”. 

“We must not play into fear or treat some of our most vulnerable community members – our transgender young people – like political pawns,” Mack said. “Transgender youth face higher rates of bullying, mental health issues, and even suicide than their non-transgender peers, which we sadly see routinely in pediatric ICUs.”

Mack added that the bill “tells a population that is already at risk, ‘We do not support you’” and was “devastated” to see it pass into law. 

GLAAD’s regional media lead for the US south Serena Sonoma declared that McMaster and other conservative legislators have sent an “unmistakable and cruel message” to Americans that they “stand strongly against LGBTQ rights” by pushing the trans sports ban.

South Carolina now joins a growing list of states that have passed legislation restricting how trans student-athletes can participate in sports into law. 

In 2022 alone, conservative lawmakers in IowaSouth DakotaOklahoma, Arizona, Utah and Kentucky have enacted trans sports bans. 

On 6 May, Tennessee extended its already existing anti-trans legislation, which was passed in 2021, to prohibit trans women from participating in women’s “intercollegiate or intramural sports” at the college level

LGBTQ+ rights advocates witnessed similar legislation being passed into law in ArkansasAlabamaFloridaMississippiMontanaTexas and West Virginia in 2021. 

Republican governor Eric Holcomb vetoed an anti-trans sports ban that landed on his desk in March, but this could still be overturned by conservative lawmakers when they next meet. A similar measure was blocked in Kansas after state legislators couldn’t get enough votes to overturn governor Laura Kelly’s veto

Louisiana is on the cusp of passing a trans sports ban after lawmakers in both the state’s House and Senate approved Senate Bill 44. The House voted 72-21 late Tuesday (17 May) to pass the Republican-fronted measure, which had already cleared the state’s Senate in April. 

The only thing standing in the way of the anti-trans measure becoming law would be a veto from Democratic governor John Bel Edwards. 

Edwards vetoed a similar bill in June 2021 as he said it was a measure “in search of a problem that simply does not exist” in the state and declared that “discrimination is not a Louisiana value”.