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Gov. Noem Signs Bill to Protect Girls' Sports, 16 UPenn Swimmers Say Trans Teammate Should Be Sidelined

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signs a bill Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, at the state Capitol in Pierre, S.D., that will ban transgender women and girls from playing in school sports leagues that match their gender identity. (AP Photo/Stephen Groves)

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) signed a bill into law Thursday that blocks transgender athletes from playing in girls' and women's sports leagues that match their gender identity. 

South Dakota is now the 10th state to enact such a law, but Noem is the first governor to sign such a measure this year.

"This bill has been an important priority for a lot of the people behind me," Noem said as she signed the bill at a ceremony in the state's Capitol. "And I appreciate all of their hard work in making sure that girls will always have the opportunity to play in girls sports in South Dakota and have an opportunity for a level playing field, for fairness, that gives them the chance to experience success."

The law is set to take effect July 1, but it faces legal challenges. 

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Noem lobbied heavily for the bill this year after vetoing a similar ban in March of last year. She had issued a "style and form veto" that led to its demise, arguing that the previous bill contained flawed language that put the state at risk of litigation and retribution from the NCAA.

Later that month, she signed two executive orders that represented what she'd hoped the legislature would pass.

Federal judges have halted enforcement of similar laws in Idaho and West Virginia, while the Justice Department has challenged bans in other states as violations of federal law.

Controversy Continues 

As CBN News has reported, the controversy over transgender athletes participating on women's sports teams now makes headlines on a regular basis. 

Opponents of allowing transgender athletes with male DNA to compete with girls have pointed out that while testosterone levels can be decreased, other physiological benefits possessed by individuals with male DNA are immutable, like bone structure.

USA Swimming released a new operating policy manual on Tuesday amid the controversy surrounding transgender athlete Lia Thomas' participation in the sport. 

Before transitioning genders, Thomas competed for three seasons at the University of Pennsylvania as a man named Will Thomas, according to The New York Post

In December, the UPenn senior qualified for the NCAA championship in the 200-yard and 500-yard freestyle and broke three school women's records and two national women's records at an Ohio swim meet.  

More of Thomas' Teammates Speak Out Over Question of Fairness

But Thomas' participation on the women's team has sparked debate over trans inclusion in sports and whether it is fair to biologically female athletes.

Several of Thomas' teammates have spoken out anonymously against the transgender swimmer's participation on the team. But now, more teammates are speaking up. 

The Washington Post reports 16 members of the University of Pennsylvania women's swimming team sent a letter to school and Ivy League officials Thursday asking that they not take legal action challenging the NCAA's recently updated transgender policy.

That new NCAA policy could possibly prevent Thomas from competing in the NCAA championships scheduled for next month. 

In the letter, her teammates said they believe their teammate should be sidelined. They also raised the question of fairness and said she was taking "competitive opportunities" away from them — namely spots in the Ivy League championship meet, where schools can only send about half of their rosters to compete, according to the newspaper. 

"We fully support Lia Thomas in her decision to affirm her gender identity and to transition from a man to a woman. Lia has every right to live her life authentically," the letter read. "However, we also recognize that when it comes to sports competition, that the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone's gender identity. Biologically, Lia holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women's category, as evidenced by her rankings that have bounced from #462 as a male to #1 as a female. If she were to be eligible to compete against us, she could now break Penn, Ivy, and NCAA Women's Swimming records; feats she could never have done as a male athlete."

The Post reports the letter was sent by Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a 1984 Olympic swimming gold medalist, lawyer, and chief executive of Champion Women, a women's sports advocacy organization. 

During a telephone interview with the newspaper, she said she sent the letter on the swimmers' behalf so they could avoid retaliation. 

In the letter, the swimmers claim they were told "we would be removed from the team or that we would never get a job offer" if they spoke out against Thomas's inclusion in women's competition.

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