Today, HRC and the ACLU of South Dakota strongly denounced outrageous comments made by South Dakota Republican State Senator David Omdahl this weekend. In an attempt to justify why he will vote in favor of an extreme bill attacking transgender students in public schools, HB 1008, the vehemently anti-equality lawmaker said transgender people are “twisted” and should be subjected to psychological treatment to change their gender identity. Such barbaric practices of so-called “conversion therapy” have been banned in numerous jurisdictions and are tantamount to nothing more than psychological abuse.
“State Senator Omdahl’s comments are both outrageously offensive and incredibly dangerous,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “His suggestion that transgender South Dakotans be subjected to psychological abuse is truly revealing of what motivates him to support HB 1008. Such barbaric practices have been widely denounced, and no human being should ever be subjected to them. South Dakota lawmakers should resoundingly condemn Sen. Omdahl’s comments, and the Senate Education Committee should reject HB 1008 and all that it stands for.”
“I think about the message our elected officials are sending to transgender kids and LGBT people in general with this package of bills,” said ACLU of South Dakota Policy Director Libby Skarin. “It’s not a message of compassion or acceptance or even basic dignity. It’s a message of attack, and a way for our government to say ‘you don’t belong here in South Dakota.’ I don’t think that message and attitude is truly reflective of our real South Dakota values, and I don’t think it’s something the public is okay with.”
In a meeting on Saturday, Sen. Omdahl said: "I'm sorry if you're so twisted you don't even know who you are...” and went on while pointing to his forehead to say, “They're treating the wrong part of the anatomy. They ought to be treating it up here.”
With his outrageous comments, Sen. Omdahl sought to justify his support for HB 1008 which seeks to prevent transgender students in public schools from using facilities consistent with their gender identity. Already passed through the state’s House of Representatives, the extreme legislation would put state law in direct conflict with the U.S. Department of Education and force public schools to pay the costs of legal challenges. The legislation would force school districts into an untenable position of choosing between state and federal law, and put them at risk of losing federal funds under Title IX. In April of 2014, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance informing public schools that Title IX protects students against discrimination based on gender identity.
Sen. Omdahl’s appalling suggestion that transgender people be subjected to so-called “conversion therapy” comes as jurisdictions around the country are banning the incredibly dangerous and discredited practice. Conversion therapy is range of practices aimed at changing one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Such attempts have been soundly rejected by every major medical and mental health association, including the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association. Last April, the White House called for an end to the practice, and in May, Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D-CA) introduced the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act– federal legislation that would prohibit the practice of conversion therapy on any person in exchange for monetary compensation. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) also released a report definitively denouncing “conversion therapy” last October.
The same day Sen. Omdahl made his comment, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced historic action to ban the dangerous practice on LGBTQ minors in New York. Six other jurisdictions have taken action to end this dangerous practice on minors. Laws banning conversion therapy have been passed in California, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, Oregon, Illinois, and the city of Cincinnati, Ohio.
In addition to HB 1008, two other pieces of discriminatory legislation targeting LGBT South Dakotans are also on the move, HB 1112 and HB 1107. Passed through committee last week, HB 1112 could ban transgender students from participating in athletic activities consistent with their gender identity and HB 1107 seeks to explicitly authorize taxpayer-funded discrimination against LGBT South Dakotans and single mothers.
Working to stop such reckless and discriminatory legislation, HRC is proud to be fighting alongside local advocates at the ACLU of South Dakota to ensure LGBT residents and visitors across the Mount Rushmore State are treated with dignity and respect.