A diverse chorus of voices, from a Maine father to a world-famous former Olympian, is calling for the veto of South Dakota legislation that would restrict restroom use by transgender students in public schools.
Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard is weighing whether to sign or veto the bill, which would require students to use the restrooms, locker rooms, and other sex-segregated facilities designated for the gender they were assigned at birth, as determined by a birth certificate or chromosomal test. Transgender students would be categorically barred from using the facilities that correspond with their gender identity. Instead, trans students uncomfortable using the wrong restroom could request permission from their school district to use a separate facility, such as a single-stall restroom or a staff bathroom with "controlled access."
Wayne Maines of Orono, Maine, the father of a transgender daughter, wrote an open letter to the governor in Sioux Falls’ Argus Leader. He describes his daughter Nicole’s fight for acceptance (Nicole, by the way, won a landmark case in Maine granting her the same access to gender-segregated school facilities as other female students), and he makes a case for why Daugaard should veto the bill.
“When Nicole was not allowed to be who she is, she suffered in ways we cannot fathom,” Maines writes in the letter, published online Monday. “When we validated that she is a girl and let her be a girl at school, she was happy and successful.”
He notes that the issue goes beyond South Dakota, telling Daugaard:
“I am reaching out to you because your upcoming decision on HB 1008 impacts my daughter, my family and so many others across the nation. I’m reaching out to you because your state stands on the precipice of becoming the first in the nation to make a law like this. And while I’m reaching out to you, this is really a letter to all the governors — from Maine to Virginia to South Dakota to Washington — who are being asked to make the world less safe for my daughter.”
In another commentary in the paper, published over the weekend, a senior at the University of South Dakota decries the restroom bill as “echoing the early 20th century” in offering separate, single-occupanncy restrooms and changing rooms to trans students. “Are we again segregating people that we deem ‘different’ than the norm?” writes Abbie Huber. “Spend a day in your local high school. Being a teenager is hard enough. Being a transgender student is even more challenging.” Huber also denounces other anti-LGBT legislation being considered in her home state, including a “religious freedom” bill that would allow discrimination against LGBT people.
And from California comes the voice of Caitlyn Jenner, who asked her Twitter followers to urge the governor to veto the bill:
— Caitlyn Jenner (@Caitlyn_Jenner) February 23, 2016
Also, a coalition including the Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union and its South Dakota affiliate, Believe Out Loud and Reconciling Ministries, Freedom for All Americans, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and the Transgender Law Center today delivered over 80,000 petition signatures to Daugaard calling for his veto.
Daugaard, who at one point said he’d never met anyone he knew to be transgender, has agreed to meet with a group of transgender people before making a decision on the bill. That meeting is scheduled to take place today, the Associated Press reports.
Meanwhile, South Dakota lawmakers have stopped the progress of one piece of anti-trans legislation. The House of Representatives Friday voted to table a bill that would require all public agencies to accept as valid only the information listed person’s birth certificate, including gender. A committee had advanced the bill to the full House earlier in the week, but its sponsor, Rep. Jim Bolin, requested that it be tabled, thus removing it from further consideration, reports the Grand Forks Herald, a newspaper in North Dakota.
“This issue has been debated enough this session,” Bolin told a reporter after the vote.
Another birth certificate bill, requiring that student athletes play on the teams designated for the gender on their birth certificates, remains pending in the state. But Bolin’s bill would have gone much further, affecting adults as well and involving more facets of life.