How Did South Dakota Become a Living Nightmare for Transgender Kids?

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South Dakota could very soon become the first state to pass a bill requiring transgender youth to use any bathroom or locker room other than the correct one. This bill has passed both the state house and senate, and now is sitting on Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s desk waiting for his signature.

HB 1008 says that public school restrooms, locker rooms and shower rooms that are designated for student use “shall be designated for and used only by students of the same biological sex.” The bill doesn’t just extend to schools, though, adding “any public school student participating in a school sponsored activity off school premises which includes being in a state of undress in the presence of other students shall use those rooms designated for and used only by students of the same biological sex.”

Gov. Dennis Daugaard via Kent Osborne for SDPB</a?

Gov. Dennis Daugaard via Kent Osborne for SDPB

The bill crudely defines “biological sex” as “the physical condition of being male or female as determined by a person’s chromosomes and anatomy as identified at birth.” There are a couple problems with this. First of all, this is a very limited and arbitrary definition of biological sex. It makes absolutely no sense that a trans girl should have to use the same bathroom as a boy. Second of all, the only way to check to see if students are breaking this rule would be to either keep track of every student’s chromosomes (that doesn’t sound very much like limited government) or to look at nude pictures of the students as infants.

The bill does throw trans students a bone, though, allowing a “reasonable accommodation” like a unisex restroom, single-occupancy restroom or faculty restroom, as long as it doesn’t cause the school district an “undue hardship.” Because nothing makes a student feel safer and more accepted than having to use a separate bathroom away from all the other students in order to protect those other students from them.

While there’s been a very understandable and justified uproar against the bathroom bill, the House State Affairs Committee also voted 8-4 to advance HB 1209, which states that “any public body of the state or its political subdivisions” (which includes school districts) that accepts any information on a South Dakota birth certificate as official (for instance, to establish a student’s age in order to determine eligibility for school sports and schools) shall now accept all information on that birth certificate as official. This means that trans kids who want to play sports or simply go to school in the state would no longer be able to play on the correct team or be officially recognized as the correct gender at school. Schools would have to look at the sex they were assigned at birth, as listed on their birth certificate, and take that as their official gender.

This disgusting, discriminatory and oppressive rabbit hole gets even deeper when we find out that the South Dakota legislature has also tried to pass two more bills, one (HB 1112) that expressly denies trans students from playing sports on the correct teams, and one (HB 1107) that allows those who receive taxpayer funds to discriminate against gay people, single mothers, and — you guessed it — trans people.

How did we get here? In my time writing about trans issues and anti-trans legislature, I’ve never noticed South Dakota as a particularly terrible place for trans people to live, so what changed? One notable thing about the support for these bills is that it’s mainly coming from several of the same people. If you look at who sponsored or introduced the bills, you’ll find the same names on two, three or even all four of the lists.

One of these names is former Evangelical Pastor, Rep. Craig Scott, who called LGBTQ people “sexual deviants” and “the perverse” in a 2010 sermon decrying government support for LGBTQ people, “abortionists” and other groups. In support of his HB 1107, the one that would let people and businesses discriminate against LGBTQ people and single mothers, he said “The real victims of intolerance and discrimination in our day are those who conduct their lives according to a belief regarding marriage and human sexuality. Our founding fathers never intended erotic freedom to trump religion’s freedom.”

Rep. Fred Deutsch is another person who appears more than once, and is the prime sponsor on HB 1008, the bathroom bill that’s in front of the governor right now. In a blog post called “Bicycles, Baby Parts and Bathroom Privacy,” he said that he sponsored the bill because he’s worried about what he sees happening in schools across America. According to Rep. Deutsch, “Federal bureaucrats, without the force of federal law, are threatening to withhold federal funding from schools that do not allow transgender students full, unrestricted access to facilities of the opposite biological sex.” Imagine that, allowing kids full access to the correct bathroom. He continues, “I especially don’t want our children to be required by the federal government to shower, change or use restrooms with other young people of the opposite biological sex.” Rep. Deutsch clearly has a very mistaken view of how sex and gender work and what transgender people are. A 12-year-old transgender girl is in no way the “opposite biological sex” to a 12-year-old cisgender girl.

Rep. Lynn DiSanto, who is a sponsor on three of these bills, said that she supports the bathroom bill because she sees it as a proactive measure against trans students who might stand up for their rights in the future. “I wouldn’t say that there’s already a big problem,” she said, adding later, “It’s coming no matter what. If we do nothing it’s coming, if we do something it’s coming.” At the same meeting, Rep. Mike Verchio, a sponsor on all four bills, said with a smug look on his face that he supports the bathroom bill because “I don’t want my 15-year-old neighbor boy claiming that he’s transgender, taking a shower with my 18-year-old daughter.” Neither of these two lawmakers say that they’re trying to address a problem that actually exists, but instead are supporting the bill in order to fight off transgender boogeymen that live only in their heads.

Another sponsor on all four bills, Sen. Brock Greenfield, claimed that the bathroom bill was not brought to the floor out of contempt, but then went on to say “Do you feel it appropriate for a 13-year-old girl to be exposed to the anatomy of a boy? Or for a boy to be exposed to the anatomy of a girl because of the decisions we make out here?” While it seems to me that he does have contempt for trans kids, it could simply be that he doesn’t care enough about them to try to understand them, listen to them or see them for who they are.

Others, including Sen. David Omdahl were less coy about their hatred of trans students. Sen. Omdahl said, “I’m sorry if you’re so twisted you don’t know who you are,” “it’s about protection for our kids” and “they’re treating the wrong part of the anatomy, they ought to be treating it up here” pointing to his head. Rep. Steve Haugaard added that being transgender is a “choice of lifestyle” and that “for us to perpetuate confusion in the lives of anyone is a disservice to them.”

If we examine Gov. Daugaard’s record, things aren’t exactly looking good for South Dakota’s trans residents. Gov. Daugaard, a Republican, has been consistently far right on issues throughout his political career, and especially on social issues. In 2010, on his campaign website, he wrote “I supported and voted for the constitutional amendment in 2006 that defined marriage in South Dakota as being between one man and one woman. The traditional family is the foundation of our society, and it should be protected. Although I do not support discrimination against any class of people, I also do not think that individual groups should be given special privileges or be allowed to redefine the centuries-old institution of marriage.” Additionally, as recently as 2014, he said that he agrees that “Judeo-Christian values established a framework of morality which permitted our system of limited government.”

There is some hope though. Gov. Daugaard had originally said about the bathroom bill that “as far as he was aware, he hadn’t met a transgender person and likely wouldn’t do so before deciding on the measure so as to ensure objectivity in his decision,” but recently changed his mind and agreed to meet with a group of transgender students. Hopefully when he sees that they’re human beings and real children, he’ll see just how damaging this law would be. There are also a few days when people can contact Gov. Daugaard to let him know that South Dakota residents are not in favor of any of these laws. Furthermore, based on what the US Department of Education announced last year, South Dakota schools would be in violation of Title IX if they don’t allow transgender kids to use the correct bathrooms. So, even if these bills are signed into law by Gov. Daugaard, they’ll likely be challenged and eventually defeated (although they can still harm trans kids in the meantime).

It’s pretty clear that one of the main reasons South Dakota lawmakers are sponsoring and voting in favor of these bills is because of the increased visibility, but not increased humanization, of trans people and especially trans women. A few years ago, most of these lawmakers probably thought that trans people only existed as sex workers and perverts in Leftist cities like New York and San Francisco. It wasn’t until trans characters started appearing in more movies and TV shows, and trans people started publicly speaking out for their rights that they realized that there had been trans people in their very own state this whole time.

trans-tv-autostraddle-5

It gets worse, as much of this increase in visibility comes in the form of misinformation and harmful tropes. Portrayals of trans women as men pretending to be women, deceitful perverts, confused and mentally ill victims in need of a cure and, perhaps worst of all, aggressive sexual predators, lead lawmakers who are ignorant of the truth about trans people to believe that they need to pass laws in order to protect the “good, normal” citizens from these dangerous trans ones.

Trans people in the media are often treated as though they are acceptable targets of discrimination, violence and oppression. They’re treated as though they deserve to be hated and mistrusted by everyone around them. After all, if they’re lying about who they are and trying to trick people into sleeping with them, they can’t be good people, right? All of these dangerous and harmful tropes becoming more visible in the last couple years has led to an increase in vigilance on the part of anti-trans activists. These senators and representatives in South Dakota are themselves representatives of a bigger trend that’s expanding across the country. Last year was the most violent year for victims of anti-trans murder, we’re seeing more anti-trans bills than ever before, and even while we’re talking about how trans people are “so hot right now,” things seem to be constantly getting worse for us.

While many of these hypervisible trans women are doing great things for trans people, the unfortunate truth is that many trans women characters are still portrayed by men and written by cis writers who just don’t get it. While people like Janet Mock, Laverne Cox and Hari Nef are advocating for trans rights and better treatment of trans women of color, shows like Pretty Little LiarsLaw & OrderThe Bold and The Beautiful and American Horror Story are putting trans women in the spotlight without offering any education on who trans people really are or what kinds of obstacles they face.

While South Dakota is currently looking at four different bills, and actually has one in front of the governor waiting to be signed, many other states are trying to pass similar laws that would oppress and attack trans people. The National Center for Transgender Equality has put together a list of contact information for states where anti-trans bills are being introduced. This list gives a brief overview of the bills in each state, who it would be most effective to contact and how you can contact them. I’d definitely recommend taking a look at this list and seeing if there’s anything you can do in your state. Actually, I’m not just recommending it, I’m begging you, especially if you live in South Dakota, to take some of the actions listed on this page. Please.

I’d like to close with a message to those who would be affected by these horrible laws, especially the transgender kids who live in South Dakota. You are beautiful and powerful, and I want to thank you for being yourself. These lawmakers are afraid of you not because there’s anything wrong with you, but because they fear and hate anything that is outside of their very narrow worldview.

I know that it can seem like there’s no hope for you, that it seems like there isn’t a possibility of a future where you can be yourself and be happy, I felt that way for a long time. I want you to know that we are working hard to make sure that’s not true. There are thousands of people, many trans people and many cis allies, who are fighting for you and who are going to use every resource we have to make sure that you’re safe and able to be yourself without your government treating you like a criminal or second-class citizen. You’re not alone, we’re here for you, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that you have the long, safe and happy life that you deserve.

Mey Valdivia Rude is a bisexual Latina trans woman living in Los Angeles. She's a writer, comic consultant and a trans activist. She's a bruja, a femme, a pop princess and she loves comic books, witches, dinosaurs and crying. She has a cat named Sawyer and a very successful twitter.

Mey has written 574 articles for us.

29 Comments

  1. They’re trying to do the same thing in Tolerant Washington. The bill was defeated, but Sens. Ericksen (R-Ferndale) and Baumgartner (R-Spokane) are threatening a referendum in November.

    What really gets me is how complacent coastal liberals (HRC types especially) are. Not only do they refuse to take responsibility for the fact that the cis LGB movement has constantly and consistently thrown trans women under the bus since the 70s, they still don’t realize that our existence is a wedge issue

    • That observation — that trans identity, and particularly Bathroom Panic, has been seized on as a wedge issue by anti-LGBT forces — is key. Now that those forces have seen how well it works (see: Houston), I expect to hear a lot more of that nonsense in the years to come.

    • Seattleite here, unfortunately only one of the six bills was defeated. There are still five more to fight, but you can contact your district representatives and tell them you oppose them! I received a reply back from each one of my reps telling me they will fight against it.

  2. “The transgender community will be effectively be eradicated legislatively. And that’s exactly what they’re aiming for: to morally legislate transgender people out of existence. Call it CULTURAL GENOCIDE if you will, it still means the effective extermination of a class of people.” – Brynn Tannehill

    You need to stop, I’m asking, begging you to stop what you’re doing. You’re all hurting people.

    MR./MRS./MS. LAWMAKER TAKE YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR FUCKING ASS.

  3. These lawmakers love to imagine us as boogeymen who will assault any woman or girl we come into contact with in a restroom, so let’s imagine a scenario where the restrooms are next to each other, but are separated as such: Men, Women, and Trans. Which restroom do you think would be the target for the most violence or vandalism from people who aren’t allowed to enter that restroom? Trans people are more at risk when we are misunderstood, othered, and separated from our correct gender than cis people ever are by including us.

    Most even seem to admit that cis people would be the hypothetical perpetrators of sexual violence if trans people are given the right to use the correct restroom. It’s always, “What’s to stop a man or teenage boy from entering the restroom to get a look at my wife or daughter?” So, instead of trying to control us and limit our rights, why not control yourselves? Why not educate yourselves and your children?

    This attitude reminds me so much of the victim blaming that happens when a woman or girl is sexually assaulted by a cis man. Why was she out that late? Why was she alone? Why was she wearing that? Why did she have the audacity to exist? Instead of confronting the true problem of the entitlement issues and lack of respect that one gender has for another, they just blame the victim. And that’s what’s happening here. Except they’re blaming us before any crimes have even taken place.

    • And if it’s just an issue of privacy and they don’t think their daughters should be exposed to penises and trans girls exposed to their daughters’ vaginas, then why not just design these restrooms and locker rooms with more privacy in mind anyway? When I lived in a dorm at college, our showers were in stalls that were very private and no guys were ever walking around naked outside of the stalls so why can’t they design the restrooms and locker rooms like that at the high schools and middle schools?

    • See that’s the part I don’t get. They want to stop men and boys from pretending to be women to see a peak at their wives and daughters. But, then they explicitly try to make laws that will allow actual (trans) men and boys in the same facilities as their wives. So, what’s to stop now in this scenario a cis man from pretending to be a trans dude(which maybe easier to do)?

      • Exactly.

        “I don’t want my 15-year-old neighbor boy claiming that he’s transgender, taking a shower with my 18-year-old daughter.”

        Let’s say I took a blow to the head and now I think this is a rational argument for this kind of law (it’s not), didn’t all these brainless lawmakers forget one part? The idea that a man could fake to be a trans-man just to get to the bathroom and attack women and young girls?

        What I mean with this is that all this transphobic rationalizations appear to have a high misogynous component: trans people are a threat, but specially trans-women because they’re women and we all know that women are deceitful.

  4. If a pervert/deviant wants to see people naked in the restroom, I doubt laws will not stop them. You are just hurting the trans and inersex youth who are just going to resent South Dakota and probably move to somewhere where they will be accepted & respected as who they are.

  5. In addition to the obvious trans discrimination going on here, the intersex erasure in this bill is also pretty bizarre. Like if you take this literally, it makes it illegal for most intersex people to use a bathroom. Any bathroom.

    Because objectivity.

  6. Fucking fear mongering populist politics.
    This is why we have history class people, so we can learn and not do fun modern remixes of shit to new groups of people. But do people pay attention in history class? No, they do not.

  7. There will always be a price for these kinds of bills that make clear what our culture thinks of trans youth. The cost is young kids, not even adults yet, who take their own lives because they can’t believe in a world where they are both trans and have a future. It is an untalliable cost, entire timelines obliterated.

    The cost is Leelah Alcorn. The cost is Kyler Prescott. The cost is Zander Mahaffey. The cost is all the names we hear about and the countless we don’t, whose obituaries are, like their lives, covered in misgenderings and deadnames. Who never got the simple and human gift of being acknowledged as real.

    The cost is literally the future.

  8. Is the main concern of these law makers that someone is gazing lustfully on an unsuspecting public restroom user?
    If so, why don’t I hear any outcry about lesbians using women’s restrooms or gay men using the men’s room?

    I think it’s actually a concern with penetration ability and “male sex drive”. The whole “a man a wired to be turned on visually and then can’t contain themselves” nonsense.
    Since they seems to believe anyone who has ever had a penis is a man, of course transwomen can’t be trusted around cis woman who are disrobed.
    And of course it isn’t a problem for transmen to keep using woman’s rooms, they aren’t capable of real manly sex drive. (But they seems to forget or be unaware that many transmen are beard and built like any other man, no problem for a cis guy to slip in if transmen are required to use the women’s room…)

    The combination of modesty culture and machismo leads them to these unfounded beliefs and harmful laws that target the vulnerable are the result.

  9. I’ve never understood how the entirety of the their argument always seems to be held up by the idea that the little W on the door is somehow preventing cis men from committing sexual assault on anyone in that restroom *right now.*

    It’s not like they walk over and say “Oh no! I wouldn’t want to get in trouble for entering this restroom to commit my *other* heinous crimes.”

    Sexual assault will still be illegal no matter how justified a persons presence in a bathroom is. If one cis man sexually assaulted another cis man in the men’s room, it’s not magically forgiven because they were both “allowed” to be there.

    Like, what the actual fuck.
    UGH

  10. The time is way overdue to pull these evil old living skeletons off their thrones, so they can no longer ruin the lives of the young. They piss on everything good and decent. Why do we let them rule us? Honest Americans should be SO angry about this! – Jamie

  11. Ok so I created an account just now so I can tell this story. I’m in my senior year of high school living in the Bay Area. When I lived in Billings, Montana, I had a friend, call her M. When I started 10th grade, M entered my high school as a freshman. She’s trans, and I’m one of her only friends. She’s bullied every day, slurs yelled at her in the hallways when she walks by. At first, the situation is that she uses the girls bathroom, but they give her a separate closet to use as a locker room for gym. With sports, she’s rejected the opportunity to join the girls basketball team. She practices for weeks her cheer routine to try out for the squad, but never even gets to try out. But at least she could use the bathroom. I always went with her when I could because the girls look at her like she’s… Gross or something. But I just shoot them dirty looks. The way it was, M was able to function. Her rights were being violated, but at the very least she could use the bathroom. That changed. It’s an extremely heartbreaking thing for me to think about. The school told her she was no longer allowed to use the girls bathroom, she would have to use the boys from then on. Translation: she no longer had a bathroom at all. I told her it didn’t matter what they said, she could still use the girls bathroom I would go with her. But she was scared. From that point on, she didnt use the bathroom at all at school. It didn’t help that her parents use the wrong pronouns. It didn’t help that she’s Native. It didn’t help that for some reason the school stuck her in special Ed classes. She stopped going to school. She only spent a couple of months in high school, then never went back. When I moved away, I saw her profile pictures transform from a smiling girl with heavy winged eyeliner and with pink rufflely tops, to makeup less, sad human with short hair and a baggy hoody. M’s mom writes on M’s Facebook wall something like, “My beautiful son, Jesus has a great path for you this year, happy birthday.”

  12. How? Simple. Marriage equality is a dead horse, so now the same groups need to find a new battle in order for their leaders to keep their salaries. It really is that simple. From the local church pastor to the current crop of Presidentail candidates in the GOP/TP, they smell blood like sharks and like sharks don’t care if it’s a child they are hurting.

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