JACKSON, Miss. (AP/WJTV) — Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill Thursday to ban transgender athletes from competing on girls or women’s sports teams.

Mississippi is the first state this year to enact such a ban, after a federal court blocked an Idaho law last year. Mississippi’s Senate Bill 2536 is set to become law July 1, although a legal challenge is possible.

More than 20 states are proposing restrictions on athletics or gender-confirming health care for transgender minors this year. Conservative lawmakers are responding to an executive order by Democratic President Joe Biden that bans discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere. Biden signed it Jan. 20, the day he took office.

Wyatt Ronan, a spokesman for the LGBTQ civil rights group Human Rights Campaign, said the Mississippi bill would be the first transgender sports ban signed into law this year. Idaho enacted a similar law in 2020 that has been blocked by a federal court.

Reeves has three daughters who play sports and he said March 4 on Twitter that Mississippi’s bill would “protect young girls from being forced to compete with biological males for athletic opportunities.”

“It’s crazy we have to address it, but the Biden E.O. forced the issue,” Reeves tweeted that day. “Adults? That’s on them. But the push for kids to adopt transgenderism is just wrong.”

Chase Strangio, a transgender-rights attorney with the national ACLU, said the Mississippi bill “is very vague and seemingly unenforceable.”

“Unfortunately, there is already rampant discrimination against trans youth in Mississippi, which means people are already driven out of sport,” said Strangio. “Gov. Reeves’s statement makes clear that this isn’t about sports at all, this is about attacking trans youth and stopping kids from being trans — a dangerous project with deadly consequences.”

After the bill was signed the ACLU of Mississippi released the following statement.

Today Governor Reeves signed into law Senate Bill 2536, blocking transgender girls from playing sports.

SB 2536 isn’t about protecting fairness in women’s sports. It’s about erasing and excluding trans people from participation in all aspects of public life. It’s about creating solutions to problems that don’t exist. Not once have the supporters of this bill cited an actual dispute over this issue in Mississippi.

Today’s circus is not new. Unfortunately, diversion and scapegoating have become routine for politicians. When elected leaders aren’t up to the real problems of our state, they tend to deflect and do anything to get people talking about something other than failing water systems, hospital closures, and teacher shortages.

What makes SB 2536 so much worse than the routine fear-mongering is that it targets children. That cannot be lost in this discussion. Whatever your politics, we should all agree that ostracizing middle and high school kids is not something to celebrate.

The governor has many other issues that deserve his attention. Instead of paying our educators what they are worth, or offering voters more opportunities to register and vote, he and the legislators who support this bill chose to use Mississippi students, the children of their constituents, as political pawns.

It is our task now to ensure Mississippi schools respect and protect trans students, who only want to be themselves.

ACLU of Mississippi

The Mississippi Senate passed the bill Feb. 11, and the House passed it March 3. The votes were largely along party lines, with most Republicans supporting the bill and most Democrats either opposing it or refraining from voting.

Republican legislators who pushed the bill gave no evidence of any transgender athletes competing in Mississippi schools or universities.

Supporters of bills such as the one in Mississippi argue that transgender girls, because they were born male, are naturally stronger, faster and bigger than those born female. Opponents say such proposals violate not only Title IX of federal education law prohibiting sex discrimination, but also rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.