Tate Reeves speaks during the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia on Aug. 1, 2019. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill Thursday designed to prevent transgender girls and women from competing against female athletes in public schools and colleges, though he could not cite any instance of that occurring in the state.

Reeves, a first-term Republican, said the bill was needed because Democratic President Joe Biden early in his tenure signed an executive order making it easier for transgender athletes to compete in female sports.

At no point during the legislative process this year could a supporter of the bill pinpoint a time in which this issue has come up at any educational institution in Mississippi. On Thursday, Reeves said the legislation was needed to protect Mississippi girls — such as his three daughters.

“It sends a clear message to my daughters and all of Mississippi daughters that their rights are worth fighting for,” Reeves said during a bill signing ceremony on the second floor of the state Capitol. The governor was joined by Sen. Angela Burks Hill, R-Picayune, the author of the legislation, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, House Speaker Pro Tem Jason White, R-West, and other legislators.

The Biden executive order does strive to prevent discrimination of transgender people and has been one of the focuses of Republican criticism of the new president. But in reality, the issues surrounding transgender sports participation pre-dates the Biden administration.

READ MORE: Bill barring transgender competition in women’s sports heads to governor

There is a lawsuit pending in Idaho centered around a bill similar to the legislation Reeves signed into law Thursday. That bill has been blocked as of now in the federal courts. Jarvis Dortch, executive director of the ACLU of Mississippi, said he is not sure if his group would file a similar lawsuit in Mississippi or become affiliated with the Idaho case.

Dortch said it might be difficult to file a lawsuit in Mississippi since no one has been harmed, as of yet, by the law since there are no known instances of transgender athletes competing in female sports.

“But if a Mississippi plaintiff comes our way, we will take the case,” he said.

In a statement, the ACLU of Mississippi said, “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 bill would prevent transgender students from participating in both varsity and intramural sports designated for the gender in which they identify. The legislation states: “Athletic teams or sports designated for ‘females,’ ‘women’ or ‘girls’ shall not be open to students of the male sex.”

If there was any question about a person’s gender, that person could go to a doctor to have the issue clarified based on genetics and other factors.

“Mississippians are still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. This law does nothing to help the tens of thousands still out of work or the nearly 300,000 who have contracted the virus in the state,” said Human Rights Campaign Mississippi Director Rob Hill. “What it does is further discriminate against transgender kids who are simply trying to navigate their adolescence. Every kid deserves the opportunity to learn the values of participation, team work, and work ethic that come with youth sports.”

On Thursday, Reeves seemed to imply that the Biden executive order was encouraging children to become transgender.

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

The Idaho law was passed last year. Mississippi is the second state to pass a similar law, but it is currently being considered it other states.

“Gov. Reeves knows this is not a problem in Mississippi and yet he insists on enthusiastically signing this bill to sow fear and division,” Hill said. “By making this harmful bill the law in Mississippi, Reeves is openly welcoming discrimination and putting the lives of transgender kids in danger.”

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.