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Sanders signs executive order over Title IX

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds up an executive order after signing it at the state capitol.
Antoinette Grajeda
Arkansas Advocate
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds up an executive order after signing it at the Arkansas State Capitol Thursday.

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed an executive order about women in sports Thursday. Last month, the Biden Administration expanded Title IX, a 1972 law banning sex discrimination in schools. Transgender athletes are not mentioned in the rule changes. The original Title IX was 37 words, while the new rule changes are over 1,500 pages, something Sanders asked the assembled crowd to let “sink in.”

These new rules cover pregnant students along with LGBT students. It's possible schools could violate the rules if they refuse to use pronouns corresponding with a student’s gender identity.

“Frankly, I am appalled,” Sanders said, adding the new rules are “erasing women.”

“Biden thinks anyone can be a woman just because they say so,” she said. “As a woman and the mother of a daughter and our state's first chief executive to give birth, I can't think of anything more offensive or dismissive.”

She said the rules conflict with three specific state laws. Act 317 requires transgender students to sleep in a separate room on overnight trips. In 2021, the legislature passed The Fairness in Women's Sports Actwhich does not allow transgender women from playing on women's sports teams. The Given Name Act prevents teachers from calling students by their preferred pronouns.

“That's the law in Arkansas,” she said. “And we will enforce it.”

The new Biden Administration rules do not talk about transgender athletes competing in sports, but it was discussed at the press conference. Sanders brought to the announcement swimmer Riley Gaines, who competed against transgender swimmer Lia Thomas at a championship in 2022. Gaines and Thomas tied for fifth place. Gaines is upset Thomas was given a fifth place trophy when she wasn't given one at all.

“Despite tying, when we go behind the awards podium,” she said. “The NCAA official looks at me and Thomas, Thomas towering over me at about 6 foot 4, this official says ‘great job you two, but we only have one trophy and we're going to give the trophy to Lia. Sorry, Riley you don't get one.'”

Sanders’ executive order says that sex is “rooted in biology.” She promises that Arkansas educational institutions will not force anyone to use someone's preferred pronouns or share changing rooms with a transgender person.

“The Arkansas Department of Education is ordered to provide specific guidance on how to enforce the rights of Arkansans to equal opportunity, free speech, due process, and privacy under the U.S. Constitution, Title IX, and state law, despite the Biden administration’s unlawful administrative rule. At no point should Arkansas law be ignored,” the executive order says.

The new Title IX rules also end Trump-era protections for people accused of sexual assault. Schools now have more flexibility when it comes to sexual assault hearings.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.