Arkansas Enacts New Transgender Law on Sports Participation

Arkansas lawmakers have enacted a new law that would ban transgender girls and women from being on female sports teams and make schools who breach the rule vulnerable to lawsuits.

The bill dubbed the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act" will force local schools and colleges to set up fixed male and female teams, and bars the creation of "coed" or "mixed" teams that could include transgender women and girls.

State government bodies will also be barred from accepting complaints of gender bias against local schools that run sports teams expressly for those of the female sex. Other action against schools, such as opening investigations into gender bias, will also be blocked.

However, schools that breach the new rules will be open to lawsuits from students and other schools that believe their athletic careers have been hampered by the inclusion of any transgender athletes on a women's sports team.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed the bill into law on Thursday, after it was passed by both the state House and Senate.

"This law simply says that female athletes should not have to compete in a sport against a student of the male sex when the sport is designed for women's competition," he said. "As I have stated previously, I agree with the intention of this law. This will help promote and maintain fairness in women's sporting events."

Earlier this month, the Arkansas Senate passed the bill by a clear 28-7 majority and sent it over to the state House. State representatives then backed the bill in a 75-18 vote, with only 7 lawmakers not voting.

LGBTQ civil rights groups criticized the Arkansas bill and said Gov. Hutchinson would expose the state to litigation and a "tarnished reputation" by signing the bill onto the state statute books.

In a statement on the bill, Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David said: "The fact that neither Governor Hutchinson nor the legislators who voted to pass this bill have named a single example of what they are legislating against underscores that this is simply a politically motivated bill for the sake of discrimination itself."

He also threatened that the governor was exposing his state to "economic harm" and "expensive taxpayer-funded legal battles" by pushing ahead with the ban on transgender women competing on women's sports teams.

Arkansas is not the only state that's put forward a bill banning transgender girls and women from competing against those of the female sex.

Idaho signed an almost identical bill into law last year, but were told by a federal judge that they could not ban transgender women from competing in women's sports. The U.S. judge then issued a temporary injunction against the measure.

Rainbow Flag Arkansas State Capitol
A rainbow flag flies over a crowd outside Arkansas State Capitol in Little Rock on April 1, 2015. Gov. Hutchinson has signed off a bill banning transgender women from women's sports. Andrea Morales/Getty Images