By Maria Caspani
(Reuters) – Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt on Wednesday signed a Republican-backed bill banning transgender athletes from girls’ school sports, adding to a list of states that have passed or enacted similar laws.
“We are protecting women’s sports, we’re ensuring a level playing field for female athletes,” Stitt, a Republican, said at a signing ceremony, surrounded by young female athletes.
The so-called Save Women’s Sports Act applies to public schools in the state through college.
Oklahoma joined 12 other states that have enacted legislation prohibiting transgender girls from participating and competing in girls’ sports in school.
Similar bills that were passed in Arizona and Kentucky last week are awaiting action from the governors of those states.
Opponents of these laws have characterized them as backed by conservative special interests to drum up support ahead of the midterm elections, when Republicans seek to win back a majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2019 that just 1.8% of high school students in the country are transgender, and the advocacy group Human Rights Campaign has said that according to surveys, only about 12% of them play on girls’ sports teams.
Transgender rights have been pushed to the forefront of the culture wars playing out across the United States in recent years, together with issues such as reproductive rights.
The Human Rights Campaign said it is tracking over 300 bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community that are currently moving across state legislatures, many specifically aimed at transgender youth.
(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Donna Bryson and Matthew Lewis)