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South Dakota Governor Pledges to Veto Anti-Transgender Bill

State Lawmakers Double Down on Baseless Fearmongering

Yesterday, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard pledged to veto a discriminatory bill that would restrict transgender students from accessing locker rooms and facilities that match their gender identity.

The bill, SB 115, was introduced this week in the state legislature. Governor Daugaard vetoed a similar bill last spring, when he observed that the legislation “does not address any pressing issue concerning the school districts of South Dakota.”

The South Dakota State Capitol building in Pierre, South Dakota, February 2016.  © 2016 Ryan Thoreson/Human Rights Watch

Lawmakers in more than a dozen other states have declined to pass restrictions on bathroom and locker room access after concluding that they are unnecessary, mean-spirited, and detrimental to vulnerable youth. The only state that has enacted such restrictions – North Carolina, as part of a larger effort to curtail LGBT rights – has faced vocal opposition, sweeping boycotts, and lawsuits detailing rights violations and discrimination against transgender students and faculty.

Discrimination is wrong at any age, but it may be particularly dangerous for LGBT youth, who are at heightened risk of isolation, family rejection, depression, and suicide. As Human Rights Watch has recently documented, restrictions on bathroom and locker room access jeopardize transgender students’ safety, health, privacy, and access to education. In the process, they stigmatize transgender youth instead of addressing the real problems faced by the US’s LGBT students – bullying and harassment, exclusion from curricula, restrictions on speech and assembly, and discrimination in schools.

Yet in 2017, lawmakers in South Dakota – as well as in Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Washington – are doubling down on their efforts to discriminate against vulnerable youth.

Governor Daugaard urged lawmakers not to reintroduce bathroom restrictions this year, deeming them “a solution in search of a problem.” Governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky has offered a similar assessment, saying that legislating bathroom access would be “silly.”

Some lawmakers aren’t getting that message, and are taking dangerous steps toward enshrining discrimination in state law. In this year’s state legislative sessions, legislators and governors should resist those efforts and focus their attention on the urgent task of making schools safer and more inclusive of all youth.  

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