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South Dakota Lawmakers Withdraw Bill Targeting Transgender Youth

Other States Should Abandon Discriminatory Proposals

Lawmakers in South Dakota have withdrawn a discriminatory bill that would have barred transgender students from using locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

The Senate Education Committee was scheduled to hear testimony on the bill, SB 115, early yesterday morning. In anticipation of a vote, students and advocates packed the hearing room to testify to the harm it would cause. When the committee convened, however, nobody offered testimony in support of the bill, and the chair unexpectedly announced that it was being withdrawn.

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

This is the third consecutive year that the efforts of some lawmakers to target transgender youth have failed in the state. In 2015, legislators rejected a bill that would have barred transgender students from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity. In 2016, the legislature approved a bill restricting access to bathrooms and locker rooms, which Governor Dennis Daugaard vetoed. The governor had also pledged to veto SB 115 if it came to his desk.

Thanks in large part to the brave testimony of transgender students, lawmakers in South Dakota are recognizing that bathroom and locker room restrictions are unnecessary, discriminatory, and hurtful. Lawmakers in other states should listen to the youth affected by these policies.

Over the past year, I spoke with students in Alabama and Texas whose schools barred them from accessing bathrooms and locker rooms with the rest of their peers. They described how those restrictions exposed them to bullying and physical and sexual violence, discouraged them from drinking water so as to avoid having to go to the bathroom in school, outed them as transgender to their peers and teachers, and caused them to miss class and forego extracurricular activities.

Despite these findings, lawmakers in Alabama, Texas, and at least eight other states are currently considering legislation that would restrict the bathrooms and locker rooms that transgender kids can use. Lawmakers like South Dakota have declined to enact these discriminatory bills, and the sky hasn’t fallen. Their colleagues in other states should do what’s right, withdraw these proposals, and focus on issues that matter.

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