North Dakota on Tuesday night became the latest state to bar transgender girls and women from joining female sports teams, starting from kindergarten and all the way through college.
The new restrictions in North Dakota, which were signed by Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican, came less than a week after the Biden administration weighed in on the charged debate over transgender athletes. Under the administration’s proposed rule change, schools would be allowed to block some transgender athletes from competing on sports teams that match their gender identities, but would be prevented from enacting across-the-board bans.
North Dakota’s laws and others like it could be headed for a clash with federal regulation if and when Mr. Biden’s proposed change takes effect. According to legal experts the federal instruction would override state laws.
When asked about laws like North Dakota’s, the federal Department of Education cautioned that its rule change was still a proposal and subject to public comment. But it stressed that “all federally funded education programs and activities must comply with Title IX and the Department’s regulations implementing Title IX.”
Though the details of the bans vary from place to place, at least 19 other states, mostly in conservative swaths of the country, now restrict transgender girls or women from playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a liberal think tank that maps legislation.
Sports participation by transgender girls and women has become an increasingly polarizing topic, as political leaders and sports-sanctioning groups have struggled to address the issue in a manner that respects transgender athletes, as well as concerns over competitive fairness.
The issue is part of a much broader push this year on the part of Republican state lawmakers to regulate the lives of transgender people. As of early April, the Human Rights Campaign, an L.G.B.T.Q. advocacy group, said it was tracking more than 800 anti-L.G.B.T.Q bills around the country, ranging from bathroom bans to restrictions on drag shows and limiting or banning medical treatment for gender transitions, known as gender-affirming care.
Mr. Burgum vetoed similar legislation on transgender athletes in 2021, noting “there has not been a single recorded incident of a transgender girl attempting to play on a North Dakota girls’ sports team.”
And last week, Mr. Burgum vetoed a bill that would have given state employees and teachers the right to ignore the preferred pronouns of transgender students and staff.
In a statement Tuesday night accompanying the two bills he signed — one covering K-12, the other college athletes — Mr. Burgum said that he still knew of no instances of transgender girls asking to play on a team. But, he acknowledged that the Legislature had “resoundingly determined” there should be additional restrictions.
“We have confidence that school districts will continue working to ensure all students have the opportunity to compete in athletics, and that North Dakota is a place where common-sense fairness and compassion can co-exist,” he said in a statement Tuesday night.
In a text message, Amber Vibeto, the executive director of North Dakota Can, a conservative advocacy group, said that she was “thrilled” by the governor’s decision.
“It’s a great day for common sense, true compassion and fair competition,” she said.
Cody Schuler, the advocacy manager for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota, said: “These bills are not about leveling the playing field for student athletes. They’re about erasing and excluding trans people from participation in all aspects of public life.”
With just a few weeks left in its biennial legislative session, North Dakota lawmakers are still deliberating over a package of half a dozen more transgender bills. Perhaps the most polarizing one — House Bill 1254, which would ban certain types of gender-affirming care — was passed by the legislature last week, and is expected to land on Mr. Burgum’s desk any day.
Senator Ryan Braunberger, a Democrat from Fargo, who is North Dakota’s first openly gay state senator, said that while he was “disappointed and angry” that Mr. Burgum had signed the transgender athlete bills, he was “still hopeful” the governor would veto the bill restricting gender-affirming care.