South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard can no longer say that he's never met a transgender person, but it remains unclear if the Republican will veto legislation that would force transgender students to use the wrong restroom and locker room at school.
Dozens of transgender South Dakotans and their friends, family, and allies gathered at the state capitol in Pierre Tuesday to participate in a closed-door meeting with the governor, reports Sioux Falls TV station KSFY. While the meeting was closed to members of the press, a trans board member with South Dakota's Center for Equality said the meeting "went well."
"[The governor] was warm and personable, and wanted to be inclusive to hearing all of our stories," said Kendra Heathscott in a prepared statement issued Tuesday. "We are grateful that he accepted our invitation and we asked him to veto HB 1008.”
Daugaard, who previously said he had never knowingly met a transgender person, now has until March 1 to decide whether he will sign or veto House Bill 1008. If he takes no action, the bill becomes law automatically, making South Dakota the first U.S. state to enact such sweeping restrictions on equal access for trans students.
As written, HB1008 legislation 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."
Trans advocates and allies have been sounding the alarm since the legislation passed the Republican-controlled Senate earlier this month. Parents of transgender students, trans equality advocates nationwide, and celebrities including Caitlyn Jenner have denounced the bill as a dangerous attack on an already vulnerable population. Legal advocates have pointed out that South Dakota's law could place the state on the wrong side of federal law, as the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice have both determined that existing protections against discrimination based on sex prohibit discrimination based on gender identity, as well.
While supporters of the legislation contend they are aiming to protect the "privacy" of all students, the fallout from enacting such regressive policies can be dire. Restricting trans students to bathrooms based on "biological sex" puts such youth at risk for increased harassment and stigmatization, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. Providing a faculty or single-stall bathroom as an alternative singles trans students out and over time may increase a trans student's likelihood of disengaging from school or dropping out altogether, notes the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.
The implication that transgender people have nefarious motives for using the restroom has been soundly, repeatedly debunked by experts and law enforcement officials, who note that there has never been a single verified report of a transgender person assaulting a cisgender (nontrans) person or student in a restroom. In fact, trans people are more likely to be the victims of such harassment, which often prompts them to avoid relieving themselves for long periods of time, which can have serious health consequences.
"I'm here to talk to the governor and tell him, you know, at the end of the day, we're all human, and we all want to use the bathroom where we want to use the bathroom," Thomas Lewis, a transgender student in South Dakota, told KSFY. "This is a big deal. I'm speaking for the students who can't speak, because they can't vote on this if this got on the ballot, or they're afraid to come out as transgender in the first place."
Watch KSFY's report below.