So, did Noem send the bill back to state lawmakers because she had a change of heart on an ethical level? No. As she explained to the conservative host, she basically worried that the language of the bill as written left space for legal challenges. As you might remember, a similar reaction happened when Idaho passed an anti-trans sports bill in 2020, which has since been blocked by a court order.
As some background, Noem gave a lengthy explanation of her decision on Twitter, and again on Monday evening when appearing on Tucker Carlson Tonight. From the start, as you can see in the first tweet below, her desire to exclude trans girls and women is as strong as ever, in spite of not signing the bill.
In reference to college sports, Noem wrote: “South Dakota has shown that our student athletes can compete with anyone in the country, but competing on the national stage means compliance with the national governing bodies that oversee collegiate athletics” and “While I certainly do not always agree with the actions these sanctioning bodies take, I understand that collegiate athletics requires such a system – a fifty-state patchwork is not workable.”
In short, many are worried the NCAA would pull tournaments from the state if this bill became law, costing the state money, loss of jobs, and opportunities for athletes.
Carlson, who repeatedly used the phrase “biological men” while discussing girls’ sports, asked Noem why she didn’t sign the bill into law and let the matter play out in the “court of public opinion.” Noem used this as an opportunity to flaunt her coalition and repeat her idea that the NCAA is “bullying” states.
Here’s the clip.
Noem alleged that she spent the last year “bullied” by “liberals” and that she recently helped found “Defend Title XIV Now” in hopes of building a “coalition of states to fight the NCAA.” Noem said she’s not getting to let “anybody,” including the NCAA, big businesses, or other conservatives “bully” her. Mind you, transgender youth face disproportionately high levels of bullying and harassment in school, much less the discrimination transgender adults face.
Perhaps Noem would have a different perspective if she made time to hear out and prioritize trans folks. According to one advocate, Noem hasn’t met with her. The director of the Transformation Project, Susan Williams, told the Associated Press that Noem’s office hasn’t returned outreach to meet with transgender youth and families.
Williams told the outlet: “We believe Gov. Noem cannot make an informed decision without meeting with transgender South Dakotans to learn about their experiences, the daily challenges they face, and the damage this bill will inflict on their lives.” Williams is, of course, entirely correct.
Meanwhile, Noem is happy to talk about her coalition effort on Fox News. “I’m going to make sure that we are building strength in numbers,” Noem told Carlson. “And we are going after the NCAA and make sure that we are keeping only girls playing in girls’ sports.” Of course, as we all know, allowing trans girls to play with cis girls is, indeed, keeping girls’ sports girls’ only.
As of now, South Dakota’s high school athletics association evaluates trans girl athletes on a case-by-case basis. As reported by CBS News, only one openly trans girl has participated in high school sports in the state, and she has already graduated from school. Unlike conservatives would love you to believe, this is not an actual issue—except that transphobia harms trans people.
Sadly, this anti-trans legislation is not a budding issue in only South Dakota. As far as other bills to keep a very close eye on, Alabama and Arkansas are neck and neck. In Alabama, there are two measures at play, including HB 1/SB 10 that would make it a felony for doctors to provide gender-affirming care to trans people under 18, as well as HB 391, which would ban trans girls and women from sports. In Arkansas, HB 1570 would ban health care for trans youth and insurance for all trans people, including adults. SB 354 would ban trans girls and women from girls’ sports teams.
Here’s the longer conversation between Noem and Carlson. Prepare yourself for lots of interrupting and talking over one another, as well as plenty of anti-trans buzzwords. It’s a short-term relief that Noem hasn’t signed the bill, but the fight is far from over.