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South Dakota Gov. to Get Trans Folks' Input on 'Bathroom Bill'

Gov. Dennis Daugaard
Gov. Dennis Daugaard

Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who claims to have never met a transgender person, now will meet several before deciding the fate of a discriminatory bill. 

South Dakota's governor now says he'll meet with transgender students before deciding whether to sign an anti-trans "bathroom bill" into law.

The bill would require students in public schools to use the restrooms, locker rooms, and shower facilities designated for the gender they were assigned at birth, and any transgender student uncomfortable with this would have to put in a request with his or her school district to use a separate facility. The South Dakota Senate approved the measure Tuesday, sending it on to the governor, after the House OK'd it last month. If Gov. Dennis Daugaard signs it, it will be the first such law in the nation.

Daugaard said today that he'll meet with representatives of the Center for Equality, an LGBT group, along with other transgender activists and allies as early as Thursday, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports. A few hours before Daugaard spokeswoman Kelsey Pritchard announced the governor would meet with the group, another staffer in the governor's office had turned down its request -- something Pritchard said was done in error, according to the paper. She also said Daugaard will meet with some of the bill's sponsors.

Daugaard had said last week that he had never met anyone he knew to be transgender and that he didn't think it would be necessary to meet a trans person before considering the bill.

LGBT rights groups praised the governor's turnabout. "Any time you're hoping for someone to see the light or to make change, it's so much easier if you can put a face to it," Ashley Joubert-Gaddis, director of operations for the Center for Equality, told the Argus Leader.

Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin issued a statement saying he hopes that meeting trans people will lead Daugaard to veto the bill. "Knowledge is power, and we hope that by learning about their experiences, the daily challenges they face, and the damage this bill will inflict on their lives, Gov. Daugaard will show true leadership and reject this measure," Griffin said. "History has never looked kindly upon those who attack the basic civil rights of their fellow Americans, and history will not treat kindly those who support this discriminatory measure."

Opponents of the bill have pointed out that it will put transgender students at risk for bullying and harassment, and also that it will put South Dakota schools' federal funding in jeopardy. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 bans sex discrimination in public schools receiving federal funds, and the U.S. Department of Education has ruled that sex discrimination includes discrimination based on gender identity.

South Dakota's 2016 legislative session has seen much action on anti-LGBT and, in particular, anti-trans bills. Today the House State Affairs Committee voted 8-4 to advance another piece of anti-trans legislation to the full House. The bill, notes an HRC blog post, "would require any public body to accept as valid all information on a person's birth certificate -- even if that information is outdated and incorrect." It's similar to a measure approved last week by the full House and sent to the Senate, requiring that student athletes play only on the teams designated for the gender on their birth certificate. But the new one applies to adults as well, and in all facets of life, according to the HRC.

Also last week, the House passed a "religious objections" bill that would prevent the state from penalizing entities that cite religious beliefs as a reason to discriminate against LGBT people or anyone else. It likewise awaits Senate action.

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