Arkansas becomes second state to sign transgender sports ban into law

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday signed a law banning transgender women and girls from competing in school sports teams consistent with their gender identity, making the state the second to approve such a restriction so far this year.

The Republican governor approved the measure despite objections from medical and child-welfare groups that it would have devastating impacts on transgender youth. Hundreds of college athletes have also urged the NCAA to refuse to hold championships in states that enact such bans.

"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," Hutchinson said in a statement released by his office. "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."

Republicans in at least 20 state legislatures have been pushing for similar bans this year. Mississippi's governor signed a prohibition into law earlier this month. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem had initially said she would sign similar legislation sent to her but has since pushed for changing it to exclude college sports.

Arkansas' law covers K-12 as well as collegiate sports.

Only one state, Idaho, has enacted a law curtailing transgender students' sports participation, and that 2020 measure is blocked by a court ruling as a lawsuit plays out.

Arkansas' law, if it isn't blocked by a legal challenge, would take effect this summer. Under the new law, a student or school who suffers "direct or indirect harm" could take a school to court for violating the ban.

The measure is among several targeting transgender people advancing through the majority-Republican legislature this year. Another bill on Hutchinson's desk would allow doctors to refuse to treat someone for moral or religious reasons, a measure opponents says would allow LGBTQ patients to be turned away.

A final vote is also expected next week on legislation that would ban gender confirmation surgery or treatment for minors.

The measures have won support as a hate bill measure backed by Hutchinson has stalled, facing conservative resistance. The current version of the bill would impose additional penalties for committing a crime against someone because of several characteristics, including gender identity or sexual orientation.

Arkansas is one of three states without a hate crimes law.

In West Virginia, the House of Delegates passed a bill that would ban transgender athletes in middle and high schools from competing on teams that align with their gender identity. The bill passed on a 78-20 vote with two delegates absent. It now goes to the state Senate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.