Today, by a vote of 4 to 2 in Senate Education Committee, South Dakota moved dangerously closer to being the first state in the nation to pass a law specifically attacking transgender children. H.B. 1008 would prevent transgender youth in public schools from using restrooms and other facilities consistent with their gender identity and would put state law in direct conflict with the U.S. Department of Education and Title IX non-discrimination protections. Already passed through the House of Representatives, the discriminatory legislation now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) pleaded with the Senate Education Committee to abandon the discriminatory bill prior to this morning’s vote, saying, “...school counselors have the professional responsibility to ensure that every child is safe, respected, and included in our schools. This bill, if enacted into law, would do just the opposite, creating an unnecessarily hostile environment further marginalizing students who already face stigma and scrutiny. We urge the South Dakota Senate to abandon House Bill 1008 and instead focus on legislation designed to support the achievement and success of every student.”
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, and the ACLU of South Dakota, have repeatedly sounded the alarm on the discriminatory bill. The organizations blasted today’s committee vote and once again called on South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard to vow to veto it if it reaches his desk.
“This outrageous legislation is a blatant attack on transgender children,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “These vulnerable youth deserve support and solutions to the high rates of discrimination and harassment they already face, not a deplorable message of hatred from their lawmakers. We once again call on the Senate to stop this vile attack dead in its tracks and call on Governor Daugaard to veto it if it reaches his desk.”
"With serious and complex issues like teacher pay and healthcare needing to be addressed this year, it is disturbing that this session so far has launched one of the worst attacks on vulnerable transgender children in the entire country,” said ACLU of South Dakota Policy Director Libby Skarin. “Bill after bill seems fixated on where kids can go to the bathroom, how they can identify themselves, and on what sports teams they can play. It is this type of hostility toward young trans people from adult leaders that contributes to the devastating bullying against and high rates of depression and even suicide among transgender young people."
“I get that understanding what it’s like to be transgender isn’t always easy. In fact, most lawmakers probably have no idea what it’s like,” said Thomas Lewis, a transgender student from Sioux Falls. “But South Dakota is my home, and I deserve to be treated the same way that any other resident of this great state is treated. When I see legislation like H.B. 1008 that targets transgender students, and then hear the insensitive comments that our state leaders have made recently about people like me, it hurts. It makes me ashamed to call South Dakota my home. And it makes me feel different. ”
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 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.