South Dakota Lawmakers Need to Focus on Real Issues, Not Discriminatory Bills

February 4, 2021 4:15 pm

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Issues that matter most to South Dakotans are once again being ignored as some lawmakers introduce discriminatory legislation that’s strikingly similar to bills that were defeated in past legislative sessions. The ACLU of South Dakota opposes these bills that would codify discrimination

House Bill 1217 would ban transgender women and girls from competing on the sports teams that match their gender identity and forbid their participation in both high school and collegiate athletic activities. The South Dakota High School Activities Association already has a policy in place for transgender athletes. Likewise, the NCAA also has clear policies on the inclusion of transgender student-athletes and their participation in intercollegiate athletics. By discriminating against young people who are transgender, House Bill 1217 violates both Title IX and equal protection.

This is the seventh attempt by South Dakota lawmakers to prevent transgender athletes from competing. After the SDHSAA enacted its inclusive transgender sports policy, lawmakers tried to meddle with the association’s authority, first with House Bill 1161 in 2015 and then with House Bill 1111 in 2016. Four additional bills – House Bill 1195 in 2015, House Bill 1112 in 2016 and Senate Bill 49 and House Bill 1225 in 2019 – would have restricted participation in high school athletic activities to the gender listed on a person’s birth certificate. All bills were killed.

House Bill 1247 would allow health care providers, medical institutions and health insurance providers to refuse care to a patient on religious, moral, ethical or philosophical grounds. This means counselors could refuse care to a young person in crisis and refuse to even provide a referral. Doctors could pick and choose who they serve, or override patient directives about end-of-life care. Pharmacists could refuse to fill prescriptions for PREP, HIV medication or birth control. Administrative staff could even refuse to process insurance paperwork if they had objections to the procedures involved.

Similar legislation – Senate Bill 109 – was introduced in 2020 but tabled in committee.

“With serious issues like South Dakota’s COVID response and tenuous state-tribal relations, it’s disturbing that some legislators keep coming back to the same discriminatory issues year after year,” said Jett Jonelis, ACLU of South Dakota advocacy manager. “Bill after bill seems fixated on the incorrect notion that some of our friends and neighbors are not entitled to the same dignity and respect as others. Legislation like House Bill 1217 and House Bill 1247 has been discussed and defeated before. It’s time to move on.”

South Dakotans agree.

A 2020 Human Rights Campaign survey found that 69 percent of South Dakota voters say that “legislators are too focused on divisive issues and should be focusing on pressing issues that will actually have an impact on South Dakotans, like growing the economy.” Additionally, nearly two-thirds of voters say, “we need to stop stigmatizing transgender people as a society.”

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