South Dakota this week became the first state to pass a bill banning transgender students from using public school restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity.
South Dakota’s Republican-held state senate voted 20 to 15 in favor of HB 1008, after it was passed in the house last week. Two house Democrats and no Democrats in the state senate supported the discriminatory law.
The bill is expected to head to Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who has agreed to meet with transgender students and the bill’s sponsors before deciding whether to sign it.
If the bill is signed into law, students would be required to use the bathroom or locker room that corresponds with their “biological sex,” defined by the bill as “the physical condition of being male or female as determined by a person’s chromosomes and anatomy as identified at birth.”
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The proposed law says that transgender students are entitled to a “reasonable accommodation,” examples of which could be single-stall, unisex, or faculty restrooms.
State Sen. Brock Greenfield (R-Clark) said on the senate floor that he blamed the Obama administration for the necessity of the bill, saying that it was a response to the federal push for transgender rights in public schools.
“This issue has been thrust upon us by an activist group of bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.,” Greenfield said. “It’s only been a product of recent decisions made at the federal level.”
The Departments of Justice and Education have argued that gender identity is protected the same as sex under Title IX of the Education Act of 1972, which bans sex discrimination in public schools. Critics of the bill say that in addition to being discriminatory, it could cost South Dakota significant fines if schools were found in violation of Title IX.
“We could be talking about several thousands or millions of dollars if we’re found—if a school is found to be in fault on this issue,” said Sen. Scott Parsley (D-Madison).
Others condemn the Republican bill because of the harmful effects if could have on transgender, gender-nonconforming, and intersex children. Even if the bill is not signed, advocates like Chase Strangio, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, say that the comments by many of the state’s Republican lawmakers have been damaging.
Perhaps the most widely reported comments came from Sen. David Omdahl (R-Sioux Falls), who praised the bill for “protecting” South Dakota’s children.
“I’m sorry if you’re so twisted you don’t know who you are—a lot of people are—and I’m telling you right now, it’s about protecting the kids,” Omdahl said this month at a “Legislative Coffee” breakfast meeting with constituents.
“They’re treating the wrong part of the anatomy; they ought to be treating it up here,” he said, gesturing to his head.
Strangio wrote a letter to state lawmakers before they passed the bill, saying that as a transgender youth, he likely would not have survived in a public school system with such a law. He condemned Omdahl’s words.
Today, legislators in South Dakota will vote on House Bill 1008 that will require transgender students to be separated from their peers and forced into separate bathrooms and locker rooms. If this bill passes, there will be many transgender South Dakotans who will face bullying, harassment and perhaps even death. We live in a time of crisis where messages like Senator Omdahl’s contribute to an epidemic of suicide in the transgender community. Almost half of all transgender individuals attempt suicide at some point in our lives.