24 HOURS: All Eyes On South Dakota As Gov. Daugaard Weighs Decision on HB 1008

by Stephen Peters

Children’s medical associations, South Dakota businesses, advocates, and families are urging Governor Daugaard to veto legislation that would put South Dakota’s schools at risk of losing federal funding and lawsuits, and would violate the safety, dignity, and rights of the state’s transgender children

WASHINGTON – With a little more than 24 hours to go until a proposal attacking transgender youth automatically becomes law in South Dakota, the Human Rights Campaign – the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization – renewed its call on South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard to listen to the broad chorus of organizations urging him to veto the legislation.

Gov. Daugaard has until 11:59 PM CT tomorrow to either veto or sign the legislation that would prevent transgender students in public schools from using restrooms and other facilities consistent with their gender identity. If he does not act before then to protect the state’s transgender children from this legislative assault against their rights, dignity, and safety, South Dakota will become the first state in the nation to pass a bill specifically targeting transgender youth in school.

A failure to veto the measure would also place South Dakota school districts into the untenable position of choosing between complying with state or federal law, putting them at risk of losing up to nearly $200 million in federal funding for their schools in addition to the cost of inevitable litigation.  

“This is not a complicated issue. Governor Daugaard has an opportunity to either stand up for transgender children in his state, or he can ignore the struggles they face on a daily basis and add to the hardship many of them already endure,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “There’s a reason we have heard overwhelming opposition to this legislation from major child welfare education organizations, businesses and corporations in the state, as well as the children and families who would be severely harmed by this bill. When more than fifty percent of transgender youth attempt to take their own lives at least once before turning 21, it's the duty of lawmakers to protect the most vulnerable in their state. The eyes of the nation are on South Dakota, and we strongly urge Governor Daugaard to seize this opportunity to show true leadership by blocking this disgraceful bill and standing up for all of South Dakota's children.”

HRC, the ACLU of South Dakota, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), and other advocacy organizations have worked furiously over the last several weeks to try to stop this outrageous bill from becoming law. HRC and its coalition partners have mobilized members across South Dakota and the nation to speak out, organized a community day of action, coordinated hundreds of calls to the governor’s office, action alerts, and a robust social media campaign. HRC worked with the ACLU of South Dakota and other coalition partners to deliver over 80,000 signatures last week urging the governor to veto HB 1008.

South Dakota highlights the stakes for LGBT people – and transgender people in particular – this legislative session. In a joint op-ed last week, HRC President Chad Griffin and NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling addressed the onslaught of bills specifically targeting transgender people this year, writing, “These pieces of legislation are especially egregious because they aren’t even addressing an actual problem. Treating transgender students equally doesn’t come at the cost of anyone’s safety or privacy. Transgender students have already been using the restrooms that match their gender in hundreds of school districts all over the country without causing a single incident of violence or harassment.”

Advocates are not alone in opposing HB 1008: the business community, children’s advocates, state and local editorial pages, and more than 80,000 people nationwide have called on Gov. Daugaard to veto the legislation.

Major corporations with operations in South Dakota, including Citibank, Wells Fargo, Sanford Health, and First Premier Bank have expressed significant concerns with HB 1008.  The Argus Leader Editorial Board opposes the legislation, and on Friday, the New York Times Editorial Board called on Gov. Daugaard to veto the bill, saying: “If Mr. Daugaard values inclusiveness and respect, siding with students who stand to be hurt by this law should be an easy decision.”

Gov. Daugaard has also personally heard from students who would be impacted by the legislation: in Washington Post this weekend, one South Dakota transgender student wrote about the profoundly negative impact that bill would have on him and pleaded with the governor, saying, “Transgender students like me are just looking for a chance to access the same things that everyone else does — an education, a job, a safe place to pee. Gov. Dennis Daugaard, please stand up for me and all of the people of South Dakota you represent. The country is watching and history will show that you did the right thing if you veto this bad bill.”

Additionally, seven national child welfare, medical, and education groups – including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American School Counselor Association, the Child Welfare League of America, the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of Social Workers, and the National Education Association – sent an open letter to all of the nation’s governors expressing their grave concerns and objections to this type of legislation.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. HRC envisions a world where LGBT people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.


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