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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signs law banning transgender students in school sports

Supporters have said the law is aimed at protecting girls, while critics have called it discriminatory.
Image: Texas Legislature Returns For Third Special Session
LGBTQ rights supporters gather at the Texas State Capitol to protest state Republican-led efforts to pass legislation that would restrict the participation of transgender student athletes on the first day of the 87th Legislature's third special session, in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 20, 2021.Tamir Kalifa / Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill Monday banning transgender athletes from playing on public school sports teams that align with their gender identity.

The bill, which cleared the legislature earlier this month and affects elementary to university-level athletics, will take effect in January.

Abbott did not immediately comment on the ban, but a lead sponsor in the Texas House of Representatives has said it is “all about girls and protecting them” in the state’s University Interscholastic League.

"We need a statewide level playing field," Rep. Valoree Swanson said on the House floor earlier this month. “It’s very important that we, who got elected to be here, protect our girls.”

Although student athletes had been required to play on teams that aligned with the gender listed on their birth certificates, they could obtain a court order allowing them to change that gender marker and compete in interscholastic athletics.

Under the bill signed into law Monday, that option is no longer available.

Critics of the legislation have called it discriminatory and said its supporters haven’t been able to provide examples of transgender athletes competing unfairly in women’s sports.

In a statement on Monday, Equality Texas, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said that if Texans “want to protect children, the goal shouldn't be to prevent trans kids from participating in sports, but to give all kids the freedom to make friends and play without fearing the kind of discrimination many older trans people face on a daily basis.”

This story first appeared on NBCNews.com.