Wyoming has joined 18 other U.S. states to ban biological male students from competing on girls’ or women’s sports teams after Republican Gov. Mark Gordon allowed the legislation to pass without his signature.
Gordon, who opted not to veto the bill—dubbed “Student Eligibility in Interscholastic Activities”—said in a letter (pdf) to Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray on March 17 that he agrees “with the overall goal of fairness in competitive female sports.”
At the same time, however, the governor also described the legislation as “overly draconian” and “discriminatory,” adding that he believes the bill doesn’t pay enough attention to fundamental principles of equality.
“Let me be clear that there are two sides to this issue and my heart goes out to any student-athlete who would be denied a scholarship or a competitive berth on a team because another athlete of another sex enjoyed an unfair advantage,” Gordon wrote, adding “There are victims on both sides of any action.”
The law, which takes effect on July 1, will prohibit “students of the male sex from competing on a team designated for students of the female sex.” It applies to public school students in grades 7 through 12 who participate in interscholastic sports.
In Gordon’s decision letter, the governor noted that there are currently four known biological male students competing in the state’s school athletics programs. He added that he’s concerned the new law could potentially increase the rates of bullying, discrimination, and suicide in the state.
“Wyoming continues to lead the nation in suicide rates, and I am concerned that by enacting a ban we may be pushing these students farther down this road rather than finding ways to support them,” Gordon wrote.
Nevertheless, the governor wrote that he freely acknowledged that “the intent of this legislation is well-meaning as a way to protect the integrity and fairness of women’s sports in our state.”
The legislation comes as a number of GOP lawmakers have taken action aimed at protecting female student-athletes and ensuring fairness and safety in women’s sports across the United States. The measures come ahead of President Joe Biden’s anticipated plans to finalize rules in May that would force institutions to allow biological males to share women-only spaces and compete in women’s sports.
The Biden administration’s Department of Education (DOE) proposed a series of regulations in 2022 to amend Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to include “gender identity” in the definition of sex discrimination in education programs. The move came on the 50th anniversary of the federal civil rights law’s enactment.
The administration is expected to roll out further rules in May detailing how Title IX applies to biologically male transgender athletes competing in women’s sports.
Antonio Serrano, advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wyoming, denounced the new bill in a statement on March 17, in which he described the state’s new law as “shameful” and “discriminatory.”
Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project, praised the law in a statement on March 20, saying that “it’s not at all ‘draconian’ or ‘discriminatory’ to limit girls’ athletics to girls; in fact, it’s simple commonsense that polling shows most Americans agree with.”
“Men cannot become women, period,” Schilling said. “However they identify, males will still retain the athletic advantages that come with their biological sex.”
“We applaud Wyoming legislators for taking this step to preserve fairness and integrity in girls’ sports, and we look forward to seeing even more states—and eventually Congress—enact these important protections as well,” he added.
Meanwhile, Sara Burlingame, director of Wyoming Equality, the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, told the Casper Star-Tribune that a lawsuit is planned and the group has contacted local and national groups interested in joining it.
The bill stipulates that if the law is suspended because of a suit, a five-member school activity commission will determine on an individual basis if a transgender student is eligible to compete in gender-designated sports that doesn’t correspond to their birth-assigned sex.
Gov. Gordon said he believed such procedures might be a more appropriate approach overall. “This seems to call for individualized consideration, where families, students, teams, and others can thoughtfully address specific circumstances, rather than such a punitive, ostracizing broad-brush approach,” Gordon wrote in his letter.
Neighboring Idaho was the first state to enact a transgender sports ban in 2020, and other states followed suit.
Wyoming is now the 19th state to enact the ban, joining Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.
In Kansas, meanwhile, Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, vetoed a proposed ban for the third year in a row, but the Republican-controlled Legislature plans to try to override her within the next few weeks.
Epoch Times reporter Katabella Roberts and The Associated Press contributed to this report.