South Dakota is making a name for itself as what may be America's most anti-LGBT state. The Senate Education Committee today passed a new bathroom bill that would adversely impact transgender students. But that was just one measure in a week full of anti-LGBT actions by state lawmakers.
On Monday, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passedHouse Bill 1107, which the Human Rights Campaign called "extreme" legislation that if signed into law would authorize recipients of taxpayer funds to discriminate against same-sex couples, transgender people, and single mothers. Specifically, it would prevent the state from taking any punitive action against any entity that discriminates because of religious beliefs about sexuality, gender, and marriage.
The bill, titled "An Act to ensure government nondiscrimination in matters of religious beliefs and moral convictions,"was "disguised as an attempt to protect religious beliefs," according to HRC.
"Anti-equality lawmakers in the South Dakota House of Representatives are sending a shameful message of intolerance and discrimination in the Mount Rushmore State," said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow in a statement on HRC's website.
"With far-reaching implications, HB 1107 would explicitly authorize taxpayer-funded discrimination against same-sex couples, transgender South Dakotans, and single mothers. This deplorable attack on basic fairness and equality must be stopped, and we call on the state's Senators to block both of the anti-LGBT bills passed by the House before they threaten the rights and dignity of the state's LGBT residents and visitors, and jeopardize South Dakota's reputation and economic prospects."
Also Monday, a Republican state senator told constituents at a forum in Sioux Falls he considered trans people to be "psychologically damaged," according to Fusion. Sen. David Omdahl spoke in support of the bill to "restrict access to certain restrooms and locker rooms in public schools" so that trans students would not be allowed to use the facilities that match their gender identity.
"I'm sorry if you're so twisted you don't even know who you are," he said, according to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, "A lot of people are -- and I'm telling you right now, it's about protecting the kids."
That bill, House Bill 1008, was denounced by HRC as "a vehemently discriminatory bill that would make the state the first in the nation to pass a law attacking transgender children."
"This legislation is disturbing, shocking, and outrageous," said HRC president Chad Griffin in a statement. "It serves no other purpose than to directly attack transgender children and could have catastrophic consequences. The Senate must stop this vile legislation dead in its tracks, and Governor [Dennis] Daugaard should vow to veto it if it reaches his desk."
The American Civil Liberties Union weighed in as well. "Some of our politicians are more concerned with legislating school bathrooms than focusing on the issues that South Dakotans really care about," said ACLU of South Dakota executive director Heather Smith in a statement. "H.B. 1008 would do nothing to help protect anyone's privacy -- but it would to do real harm to already vulnerable transgender students, singling them out from their peers and sending the dangerous message that it's ok to target and discriminate against those who are different."
The ACLU released another statement celebrating the defeat of anti-LGBT legislation in Virginia and Washington State, also calling for South Dakota to stop bills it called "discriminatory:"
"We need to raise our objections and tell South Dakota that we won't stand for this anti-transgender rhetoric," it reads. "We need our leaders to stand up for and protect all kids, which includes LGBT students."
As mentioned earlier, the bill passed out of committee today by a vote of 4 to 2. HRC issued a press release condemning that action, saying the bill "would put state law in direct conflict with the U.S. Department of Education and Title IX nondiscrimination protections. Already passed through the House of Representatives, the discriminatory legislation now heads to the full Senate for consideration."
HRC also shared with the news media the perspective of one trans student from South Dakota, Thomas Lewis from Sioux Falls.
"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. 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. "
HRC also provided a statement from the American School Counselor Association, which pleaded with the Senate Education Committee to abandon what HRC labeled the "vile, discriminatory bill," prior to today's vote:
"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."