A bill that would bar transgender students in South Dakota public schools from using the sex-segregated facilities matching their gender identity has gone to the governor for his signature.
The state's Senate passed the bill today by a vote of 20-15, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports. The South Dakota House of Representatives approved it last month.
If Gov. Dennis Daugaard signs it into law, it would make South Dakota the first state to enact such a policy. Daugaard, a Republican, "has said the measure seems like a good idea and would listen to recorded testimony before making up his mind on whether to make the bill law," the Argus Leader reports.
The legislation would apply to restrooms, locker rooms, and shower facilities. Trans students uncomfortable with the arrangement would have to seek permission from their school district to use separate facilities.
LGBT rights groups have condemned the bill and pointed out that it conflicts with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bans sex discrimination in public schools receiving federal funds. The U.S. Department of Education has ruled that sex discrimination includes discrimination based on gender identity.
"Using state law to force a student to use a separate bathroom from their peers just because they are transgender is not only dangerous and wrong, it is a violation of federal law," said a statement issued by Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center. "If signed by the governor, this bill would endanger students and open up South Dakota schools to legal chaos, liability, and the loss of millions in federal funds." The center urged Daugaard to veto the bill.
Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin also called for a veto. "The Republican leadership of South Dakota's legislature has disgracefully failed to fulfill its most fundamental obligation -- to protect the state's young people from harm," Griffin said in a press release. "It is inconceivable that Governor Daugaard would decide the fate of this bill while saying he's never met a transgender person in his life. We urge him in the strongest possible terms to veto this legislation, and to engage in thoughtful dialogue with his transgender constituents, especially South Dakota's transgender children."
Transgender high school student Thomas Lewis last week warned the Senate Education Committee that enacting such a law would harm young trans people. "This bill would single out transgender students like me by forcing me to choose between using a different bathroom from the rest of my peers and using a bathroom that doesn't correspond with my gender identity," he said, according to a transcript from the Transgender Law Center. "This is only going to further bullying, harassment, and discrimination. It opens the door to ridicule and public insult by our peers when really, lawmakers should be focusing on passing legislation where every student can be free to be open about who they are in an accepting environment."
In a response to Daugaard's statement that he's never met a transgender person that he knew of, Sioux Falls transgender activist Kendra Heathscott wrote an essay for the Argus Leader, published over the weekend, pointing out that Daugaard had met her. She attended an educational program at the Children's Home Society of South Dakota, a social services agency, when he was executive director there in the early 2000s. Read her essay here.