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South Dakota Governor Comes Down On the Right Side of History

Chase Strangio,
Deputy Director for Transgender Justice, ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project
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March 1, 2016

For the past five days, Republican South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard has considered whether to sign or veto the anti-transgender bill that passed the South Dakota Legislature last week.

Today he vetoed the bill and sent an important message to all South Dakotans — and particularly to the estimated 1,300 transgender students in South Dakota — that his state won’t let fear and ignorance of difference dictate state law.

The bill, HB 1008, targeted transgender students and proposed assigning them to separate bathrooms.

Horrible things were said about transgender young people by South Dakota lawmakers as the bill made its way through the state’s legislature.

At the same time, brave South Dakotans and allies from across the country fought back and stood behind the transgender young people who are just fighting to be themselves. As transgender student Thomas Lewis explained in The Washington Post: “Transgender students like me are just looking for a chance to access the same things that everyone else does — an education, a job, a safe place to pee.”

During the floor debate in the Senate, Republican Senator Deb Peters recognized that, explaining of the bill, “When I’ve been elected these past 12 years … my whole goal has been cause no harm, do no harm and this instance I cannot vote for this particular piece of legislation because I believe it does more harm than good.” While supporters of the legislation insisted that it was needed as a “preventative” measure, the truth was, as another Republican lawmaker explained, the bill just caused “unnecessary fear.”

Though he at first indicated support for the measure and admitted to never having met a transgender person, Governor Daugaard later decided to meet with transgender students to hear about their experiences. Of the meeting with the students, Daugaard explained, “It helped me see things through their eyes a little better and see more of their perspective.”

At the end of the day, our common humanity and decency united us. Hopefully Daugaard’s message and action will be received beyond South Dakota.

The transgender community continues to need the support and love of allies willing to stand up to discriminatory measures that threaten our safety. The transgender young people who bravely spoke out in South Dakota changed the course of their own political lives and set an inspiring example for the rest of us. We should not all have to be so brave, but we honor and thank those young people who take on so much to make the world a better place for us all.

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