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South Dakota GOP Governor Vetoes Discriminatory Bathroom Bill

Jenn Stanley

Gov. Dennis Daugaard was poised to sign the bill, but agreed to meet with transgender South Dakotans before he made his final decision, saying he had never knowingly met a transgender person.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) this week vetoed a bill that would prohibit transgender students from using the school bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity.

HB 1008 passed through the state senate and house last month, and the country watched as the state’s Republican governor decided on whether to sign the measure into law. South Dakota would have been the first state to pass legislation of this kind.

Daugaard was poised to sign the bill, but agreed to meet with transgender South Dakotans before he made his final decision, saying he had never knowingly met a transgender person. He said he vetoed the bill as a result of the meeting.

“It helped me see things through their eyes a little better and see more of their perspective,” Daugaard told the Argus Leader.

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In his veto message, Daugaard said he believes the transgender locker room and bathroom policies are best handled by local school districts, and not by a state mandate, given that the HB 1008 would leave schools vulnerable to losing federal Title IX funding on the basis of sex discrimination.

Preserving local control is particularly important because this bill would place every school district in the difficult position of following state law while knowing it openly invites federal litigation. Although there have been promises by an outside entity to provide legal defense to a school district, this provision is not memorialized in the bill. Nor would such defense eliminate the need for school or state legal counsel, nor avoid expenses relating to expert witnesses, depositions and travel, or other defense costs. Nor does the commitment extend to coverage over settlement or damage expenses. This law will create a certain liability for school districts and the state in an area where no such liability exists today.

Chase Strangio, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, had been a vocal critic of HB 1008. Before lawmakers passed the bill, Strangio wrote them an open letter saying that as a transgender youth, he likely would not have survived in a public school system with such a law.

Strangio commended the transgender young people who stood up to the bill and spoke to the governor.

Horrible things were said about transgender young people by South Dakota lawmakers as the bill made its way through the state’s legislature,” Strangio wrote for the ACLU after Daugaard vetoed the bill. “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.”

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