Aug Sept 2016
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The Advocate

How This Teen Helped Stop S.D.'s Insidious Anti-Trans Bill

Lewis

My name is Thomas Wayne Lewis. Without any other reference, I am a male with a name based on a comic book character. However, with a picture of me or seeing me in person I suddenly become a female who is odd because I have a boy’s name.

They are partially right; I am a transgender male who has not yet had hormone treatment or a double mastectomy. So I still look female, while carrying myself and speaking as a male.

Obviously, this presents some problems. Particularly, when I want to use the bathroom. Get ready for a “pissy fit.”

South Dakota, the lovely state in which I live, recently tried to pass a bill saying transgender students in public schools are only allowed to use the bathroom of their “assigned birth sex” or have an accommodation made for that student to use the bathroom.

I testified against this bill (HB 1008) in committee while it was in the hands of the Senate. As a student affected by this bill, I felt it necessary that lawmakers know that this is not their decision to make. My peers are perfectly fine with transgender students using the bathroom they prefer to use. My school has gender-neutral bathrooms as well, if the students would prefer to use them. However, even with my testimony, the Senate passed the bill and it landed on the desk of Governor Dennis Daugaard.

I, along with a few others, told our stories to the governor about how this bill would affect us personally. School is already a place of worry for most students because of coursework, fitting into a niche, and even finding a good parking spot in the morning. The policing of transgender students, most of whom are not out openly, and their bathroom use, is another issue to add to the long list of stresses. This makes students like me feel more singled out and self conscious.

I must have done something right because on March 1st, HB 1008 was vetoed.

The feelings I have around this issue are full of passion. No matter the outcome, I am fighting the good fight and standing up for those people who cannot speak for themselves. I am extremely elated in every respect. This bill is dead and my bathroom use and any other transgender students bathroom use is not going to be policed. I do not have anything to fear from using the men’s room at my high school. My friends support me using it alongside with them.

All in all, I feel like a human being.

However, I do not want to be the one getting all the praise. The people who really need to be thanked are those who have supported me and the opposition of this bill from the start. We need to thank those people because without them I don't where I would be today. Who knows where this bill would be without them. To me, this shows that you don’t have to be trans to understand what the bill stated is wrong. You don’t have to be a South Dakotan to say that the bill was unnecessary. The change.org petition that I started witht the ACLU reached an international audience. I brought over 80,000 signatures of that petition with me to Pierre; some from South Dakota, some from New York, even a few from Britain! Normal people from around the whole can see that a piece of legislation that may not affect them personally, it is harm to the transgender students of South Dakota. Personally, I would like to thank the ACLU of South Dakota and the Sioux Falls Center for Equality for the fighting the never ending battle of civil rights. Both of these groups have amazing people who have always supported me and started me on the path to being a more outspoken advocate for my rights and for the rights of others.

These people made my feeling about my own humanity more certain. HB 1008 attacked and discriminated against children. Children. This bill made me doubt my own humanity. I am not human enough to use the bathroom with the rest of my friends? I was going to be put in a problem box to be dealt with when the next legislative session came around.

But I am not a problem. I am human. Normal people respect that. The governor of my home state respects that. Therefore, I can respect myself.

THOMAS LEWIS is a student at at Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls, S.D.

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