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South Dakota Moves to Ban Discussion of Trans Identity in Schools

South Dakota classroom

The House of Representatives voted to make the term "gender dysphoria" illegal in elementary schools -- it's just the latest assault on trans people in South Dakota.

The South Dakota House of Representatives Tuesday approved a bill that would ban any mention of transgender identity in kindergarten through seventh grade.

House Bill 1108, which now goes to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it is likely to pass, mandates that "no instruction in gender dysphoria may be provided to any student in kindergarten through grade seven in any public school in the state," ThinkProgress reports. It passed by a vote of 39-30 in the House; if it passes the Senate, Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, will probably sign it.

While some states still have laws that prohibit the mention of homosexuality in public schools -- known colloquially as "no promo homo" laws -- "this is the first 'no promo trans' bill to actually have traction in the country," according to the site.

If it becomes law, it could have major and harmful implications for transgender children. "Many transgender kids come out at very young ages, and research has consistently shown that they are best served through affirmation, including respecting their names and pronouns," ThinkProgress notes. "It's unclear if the legislation would allow schools to accommodate trans kids whatsoever, but it would certainly come into play when a student transitions. Even telling other students what name and pronouns to use for the student might be prohibited, and certainly any education about trans issues to help protect that student from bullying would be a nonstarter."

The Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota also condemned the bill. "The intent of this legislation is clearly to discriminate against transgender and gender-nonconforming South Dakotans," said Cathryn Oakley, HRC state legislative director and senior counsel, in a press release. "If HB 1108 were to become law, it would send a strong message to LGBTQ youth that they are less than their peers. South Dakota was the first state to introduce anti-transgender legislation that would bar trans kids from accessing facilities consistent with their gender identity, and it seems intent on being on the forefront of discrimination yet again, at the risk being out of step with the rest of the country. We implore the Senate to vote against this harmful legislation."

"The ACLU of South Dakota is disappointed that South Dakota's representatives voted to pass House Bill 1108," said Libby Skarin, the group's policy director, in the same release. "It is this type of hostility toward young transgender people from adult leaders that contributes to the high rates of depression and even suicide among transgender young people in our state. But the fight is not over. Our commitment to ensuring that transgender South Dakotans can live openly without discrimination remains strong and urges South Dakota lawmakers to stop hurting transgender youth." GLSEN and the National Center for Transgender Equality have also issued statements against it.

South Dakota is considering other anti-transgender legislation as well, according to HRC. A bill to bar trans students from participating on the sports teams that match their gender identity saw no action in the Senate, but a similar one has been introduced in the House. In 2016 state lawmakers passed a bill restricting trans students' restroom use, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

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