A Republic Governor is urging legislators to back her bill on transgender athletes
A Governor who is one of the leading US politicians campaigning to pass rules that would outlaw transgender competitors from participating in female sports has urged decision-makers to back her proposed policy, saying it could be critical to helping girls succeed and even go on to become professional athletes.
South Dakota Republican Kristi Noem is one of the most powerful figures taking a concerned interest in the controversy around transgender participants in youth competition.
The issue has resulted in a number of attempts to pass bills stopping transgender entrants from competing against opponents whose sex matches their gender from birth.
By mid-2021, 31 states had introduced bills that barred transgender athletes from participating in sports matching their gender identities, with a further seven considering proposals at the start of 2022.
Noem passionately believes South Dakota should introduce the "strongest bill in the nation" to curb transgender sportspeople from competing in women's sports.
"This is about fairness," Noem told Fox, referencing Title IX, the federal civil rights law of 1972 that sets out rules around discrimination for institutions that receive federal government funding.
"This is about making sure that our girls have a chance to be successful and to compete, to win scholarships and potentially go on to play professional sports beyond that. We want them to have the opportunity to do that.
"Title IX fought for that years and years ago and I've been doing this for years, which started almost five years ago now in the sport of rodeo, where we protected girls' events.
"So now I'm bringing a bill to the legislature that will be the strongest bill in the nation in protecting fairness in girls' sports, and I'm hopeful that my legislators will support it."
Several flashpoints within the past year have enflamed the already-fierce debate, including the participation at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics of Laurel Hubbard, a super-heavyweight New Zealand weightlifter who transitioned as an adult to become a woman.
In recent months, parents at the University of Pennsylvania are said to have pleaded with leaders to revisit rules around testosterone levels after Lia Thomas, who went through puberty before becoming a woman, smashed female records in the pool.
Campaigners against the bills have argued that the measures are discriminatory, in some cases taking their protests to the Senate.
A legislative committee in Noem's state has just approved a bill limiting collegiate and school participation to the sex identified on individuals' birth certificates.
Noem denied a suggestion that she had stopped a similar bill in 2021. "That's simply not true - I did not veto a bill," she explained.
"What I did was I asked my legislature for changes, and they rejected it. So immediately that very same day I put executive orders in place to protect girls' sports."
She added when she initially introduced the legislation in December 2021: "Common sense tells us that males have an unfair physical advantage over females in athletic competition.
"That's why only girls should be competing in girls' sports. Women have fought long and hard for equal athletic opportunities and South Dakota will defend them, but we have to do it in a smart way.
"I'm introducing legislation to codify my executive orders and extend further protections to women and girls."
The ally of former US president Donald Trump received a mixed response to the move online, with some accusing her of stoking hate while others praised her for what they perceive as seeking to protect women.
The 50-year-old is also campaigning strongly on 'pro-life' abortion rules and aiming to bring in legislation to protect medical or religious exemptions from Covid vaccines, as well as recognizing natural immunity.
Noem played down a suggestion that she could run for national office in the 2024 US Presidential Elections.