Today, the South Dakota Senate passed extreme and dangerous legislation that attacks the rights of transgender children in public schools, and prevents them from using restrooms and other facilities consistent with their gender identity. After repeatedly calling on lawmakers to stop the legislation, HRC and the ACLU of South Dakota, condemned the vote and called on Governor Dennis Daugaard to veto the offensive and deeply discriminatory legislation. If signed by the Governor, South Dakota would be in direct conflict with the U.S. Department of Education and non-discrimination protections under Title IX of the United States Education Amendments of 1972.
South Dakota schools are incredibly concerned about the expensive legal costs this discriminatory legislation would force them to pay in resulting legal challenges. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) has pleaded with the Senate to abandon the discriminatory bill.
“The Republican leadership of South Dakota’s legislature has disgracefully failed to fulfill its most fundamental obligation – to protect the state’s young people from harm,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “It is inconceivable that Governor Daugaard would decide the fate of this bill while saying he’s never met a transgender person in his life. We urge him in the strongest possible terms to veto this legislation, and to engage in thoughtful dialogue with his transgender constituents, especially South Dakota’s transgender children. Knowledge is power, and we hope that by learning about their experiences, the daily challenges they face, and the damage this bill will inflict on their lives, that he will show true leadership and reject this measure. History has never looked kindly upon those who attack the basic civil rights of their fellow Americans, and history will not treat kindly those who support this discriminatory measure.”
“Today South Dakota Senators voted to pass a bill that targets vulnerable transgender students for discrimination,” said Heather Smith, Executive Director, ACLU of South Dakota. Lawmakers heard from South Dakota parents, teachers, students, school counselors, clergy, and mental health professionals who wrote emails, and traveled to Pierre from all corners of the state to testify and demonstrate the ways in which this bill does real harm to transgender students. The only people to testify in support of this harmful, discriminatory bill were lobbyists—not one South Dakota citizen testified to the necessity of this bill. And that’s because it’s not necessary and we don’t need discrimination codified. It begs the question; do our state politicians truly represent the people of South Dakota, or do they represent outsider lobbyists and interest groups? Governor Daugaard should listen to his actual constituents and veto this bill and send a strong message that discrimination isn’t a South Dakota value and there’s simply no place for it in our schools, community, and state.”
H.B. 1008 would put South Dakota school districts at risk of losing federal funds under Title IX, forcing them into an untenable position of choosing between state and federal law. It would also tie the hands of school administrators and teachers who would no longer have the flexibility they need to find workable solutions in coordination with transgender students and their parents. The U.S. Department of Justice has unequivocally stated that, “Discrimination based on a person’s gender identity, a person’s transgender status, or a person’s nonconformity to sex stereotypes constitutes discrimination based on sex. As such, prohibiting a student from accessing the restrooms that match his [or her] gender identity is prohibited sex discrimination under Title IX.”
The legislation would only exacerbate the discrimination and harassment that transgender students already face. Based on findings from HRC’s groundbreaking survey of over 10,000 LGBT-identified youth, the HRC Foundation, in partnership with Gender Spectrum, released a report in 2014 on gender-expansive youth – or young respondents who identified as transgender or chose “other.” Findings revealed the heartbreaking reality that gender-expansive youth take the brunt of exclusion and verbal harassment both inside and outside of school compared to their peers. For example, 40 percent of gender-expansive youth reported being excluded “frequently or often” by their peers. Nearly the same number of these youth reported “frequently or often” being verbally harassed and called names at school, and 42 percent reported being called anti-gay slurs.
HRC and the ACLU of South Dakota have repeatedly called on lawmakers to stop the attacks on transgender children. While H.B. 1008 is dangerously close to becoming law, two other anti-LGBT bills have also passed the South Dakota House of Representatives this year and a fourth anti-LGBT bill has been introduced.