Gov. Tate Reeves prepares to answer questions from the media after signing House Bill 1671, House Bill 510 and Senate Bill 2696 into law at the Walter Sillers Building in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, April 19, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Gov. Tate Reeves’ most recent television commercial features him standing alone on a field intently cheering as his teenage daughter and her teammates run through their soccer drills.

“I love watching my daughter compete in soccer with and against some of the best female athletes around the country,” Reeves says in the ad. “I never thought I’d see the day where radical Democrats are working to give boys opportunities meant for girls, but here we are. As governor, I’ll hold the line against this insanity in Mississippi.”

Recently the Republican governor posted on social media: “Madison is hopping with activity this beautiful summer morning. So many young females — like Maddie — working on their game. Mississippi has to have leaders that will protect our kids. As your governor, you know I will.”

Based on the time Reeves devotes to talking about transgender women and girls competing in sports, it sure looks like he believes it is the No. 1 issue of this campaign season.

What is the impact of the issue on Mississippians?

According to research done by the UCLA’s Williams Institute, there are an estimated 9,600 transgender adults in Mississippi, comprising 0.41% of the population. The study estimates there are 2,400 trans children between the ages of 13 and 18 in Mississippi, comprising 1.2% of that population.

And how many of those Mississippians are trans females who are competing in girls’ or women’s sports in the state? Nobody — not the governor, not lawmakers who have passed legislation about the matter, not the Human Rights Campaign that advocates for LGBTQ+ rights — can name one trans athlete competing in sports that align with the athlete’s gender identity.

A Newsweek article quotes Joanna Harper, a medical physicist who has written extensively about the issue of sports and trans athletes, as saying, “While we don’t know the exact number of trans women competing in NCAA sports, I would be very surprised if there were more than 100 of them in the women’s category.”

As a point of reference, the NCAA reported 226,212 females competed in college sports in 2021-22.

As the Newsweek article pointed out, based on the UCLA study, there are 1.3 million trans adults (0.5%) and 300,000 trans minors (1.4%) nationwide. Not all of those are trans women, and even a smaller, unknown percentage compete in women’s sports.

In Mississippi, there have been instances of girls competing against boys in youth sports, but there are no examples of trans girls competing on girl’s teams. It is not uncommon for boy’s and girl’s select soccer teams to compete against each other in “friendly” matches in preteen or early teen years. Such games, no doubt, have occurred throughout the state. But no one can account for the problem Reeves has focused so much time on.

“Gov. Reeves is desperate,” said Rob Hill, the state director of the Human Rights Campaign. “In the face of his plummeting poll numbers, he’s going to do everything he can to avoid talking about his failed tenure as governor and his lack of vision and leadership for our future. Voters will see through these pathetic attacks on LGBTQ+ Mississippians and reject his attempt to marginalize transgender young people.”

Speaking of polls, according to a Siena College/Mississippi Today poll conducted earlier this year, 55% of respondents said they would only vote for a candidate who would expand Medicaid if elected. A strong majority 58% would only vote for a candidate who supports fully funding the Adequate Education Program to fund local school districts, and 58% would only vote for the candidate who supports eliminating the state’s grocery tax.

Reeves is on the wrong side of those issues, based on the poll numbers. Siena did poll one trans-related policy issue in Mississippi and found about 35% said they would only vote for a candidate who supports “maintaining the ban on gender affirming care for transgender youth,” as signed into law by the governor, while 31% would only vote for a candidate opposed to maintaining the ban. The governor also talks extensively about that ban.

There are no public polls available of Mississippians’ views on trans females competing in women’s sports. But a recent national poll indicates strong opposition — around 70% — to trans females competing in women’s sports. But other polls lower that number dramatically when people are told sports governing authorities are placing regulations on when trans females can compete.

It makes sense that poll results in Mississippi would be similar, if not even more one-sided.

At any rate, Reeves is spending an inordinate amount of time on an issue with an impact in the state that is, according to the numbers, hard to identify.

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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.