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The South Dakota Legislature’s Transphobia

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Trans Flag
Libby Skarin,
ACLU of South Dakota Policy Director
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February 7, 2019

After a short-lived victory in January, transgender students in South Dakota are once again being targeted with legislation that would put them at greater risk and, at the same time, cause serious damage to the state’s reputation and economy.

On Jan. 24, lawmakers in the state Senate scuttled a bill requiring transgender students to participate in high-school athletics based on the gender they were assigned at birth. A broad coalition — including the largest school district in the state, faith leaders, doctors, athletes, and parents — came together to oppose the measure.

A similar bill has now been reintroduced along with two others that would harm transgender kids. The bills are each unique, but they have a common goal: To attack transgender people, particularly transgender students and their families.

HB 1225 is a near clone of the now-dead SB 49. It would exclude transgender student-athletes from enjoying the same opportunities and programs as their peers. It would force transgender kids to play sports according to the gender on their birth certificates and overturn a policy that has successfully been in place for years. The bill flies in the face of doctors; sports associations, such as the NCAA and the International Olympic Committee; and local school administrators, who understand the importance of providing equal educational opportunity to transgender students.

HB 1108 would prohibit the discussion of “gender identity” and “gender expression” in kindergarten through seventh-grade classrooms. While this bill is clearly meant to target transgender kids, it’s so broad and poorly written that it has implications for all students. Everyone has a gender identity, after all. The bill, which passed out of committee on Wednesday, would prevent teachers and administrators from creating a safe and welcoming educational environment for all students.

The third bill, HB 1205, was thankfully defeated on Thursday. The bill claimed that it would protect parents and guardians from any adverse governmental action for denying their minor children treatment of any kind to support gender transition. Parents already have broad authority and power to make health-care decisions for minor children in their care. The bill was a proclamation by the government that it disapproves of transgender young people.

All three bills come on the heels of year-after-year legislative attacks against transgender people in South Dakota.

Each time an anti-trans bill is introduced, the ACLU of South Dakota is flooded with calls from scared kids and their families. They just want to know that they can go to school without being discriminated against, targeted, or bullied. Every kid in our state deserves to be treated fairly and with dignity and respect. These bills put those shared values at risk.

With recent nondiscrimination advances in New Hampshire and wins at the ballot box in Anchorage and Massachusetts where nondiscrimination protections were affirmed, attacks against transgender students in states like South Dakota can go unnoticed by most people.

South Dakota kids need the rest of the country to understand what’s happening and to get involved. The legislation that’s being road tested here will find its way to other state capitols if it isn’t defeated. The backlash to the anti-trans HB 2 in North Carolina demonstrates the collective power that can be exerted when business leaders, tourists, sports associations, and everyday people let their values guide their wallets and when they raise their voices.

The danger this legislation creates is real. The potential harm to South Dakota is significant, and the stakes for transgender students are high. Kids are hurting.

Every student deserves to go to school, to feel safe and supported, and to be given an opportunity for success. We need to let transgender kids in South Dakota know that they aren’t alone and that people have their backs and will stand with them against discrimination.

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