Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed a bill governing women’s sports that has stirred controversy in Arkansas.
Hutchinson signed Senate Bill 354 into law on Thursday, March 25, creating the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act. This law holds that sports teams sponsored by a school must been “expressly designated” based on biological sex. Teams must be referred to as “male,” “men’s,” “boys” or “female,” “women’s” and girls.”
Team sports that are designated for females will not be open to males, as a result of the new law.
This law will apply to public elementary and secondary schools, open-enrollment public charter schools and public two-year and four-year institutions of higher learning. In addition, private educational institutions that compete against public schools must also adhere to this law.
According to the bill, state government agencies, athletic associations or accrediting organizations are not permitted to accept gender bias complaints, organ an investigation or take “other adverse action” against schools that maintain separate athletic teams for male and female students.
Students that suffer a “direct or indirect harm” as a result of this provision being violated or who suffer retaliation from the school or athletic association would be allowed to pursue a private cause of action against their school for injunctive relief and damages, including attorney’s fees and costs. Schools that are impacted by complaints or other adverse actions would be empowered under the new law to seek injunctive relief and damages against the relevant state government agency, licensing organization or athletic organization.
According to Hutchinson, the law will result in increased fairness to women in sporting events.
“Today, I have signed into law SB354 called the ‘Fairness in Women’s Sports Act’. I have studied the law and heard from hundreds of constituents on this issue. I signed the law as a fan of women’s sports from basketball to soccer and including many others in which women compete successfully. 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. As I have stated previously, I agree with the intention of this law,” he said in a statement.
Advocacy groups in Arkansas have opposed the bill, which was sponsored by state Sen. Missy Irvin. The ACLU of Arkansas called the bill part of a “coordinated effort to banish trans people from public spaces,” in a March 18 tweet.
Other groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, have also voice disapproval for the bill, stating that the law would be harmful for trans youth.