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Senators reject bill banning birth certificate sex changes

February 5, 2021 GMT

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota Senate committee on Friday unanimously rejected a bill that would have banned transgender people from changing the sex designation on their birth certificates.

The bill was passed by the House last month in a vote that divided Republicans who dominate the Legislature. But GOP senators on a Health and Human Services Committee all opposed its passage, saying it was unnecessary and would have made life much harder for transgender people.

Law changes that affect transgender people have become perennial battles in the South Dakota legislature. The House is currently considering a bill that would prohibit transgender females from participating in school sports leagues for girls. But such proposals have struggled to clear the Senate.

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Several transgender people who have had their birth certificates amended told senators that the step was “vital” to their ability to apply for jobs, mortgages and other financial services.

Scott Dover, a transgender man from South Dakota, said he once had difficulty cashing a check at a bank because his driver’s license did not match his gender identity.

“The bill is clearly discriminatory and fueled by disinformation,” Dover said.

Rep. Fred Deutsch, who introduced the bill, said he proposed it after hearing that a judge had expressed that South Dakota law is not clear on the process for changing sex designations on birth certificates. He argued that sex is an immutable trait and it was important for record-keeping to keep birth certificates the same.

Other conservative lawmakers cast the bill as a proxy-battle for much broader social issues.

“Is objective truth still alive and is it still important?” said Bethany Soye, a Republican from Sioux Falls.

But advocates for transgender people warned that even if the bill became law, it would spark a costly legal battle. In 2018, a similar policy in Idaho was struck down by a federal judge as unconstitutional.

For the transgender people who spoke out against the bill, it amounted to another fight to receive equal treatment in South Dakota.

Elliot Vogue, a 17-year-old transgender boy had traveled to the Capitol last year to speak against a different bill brought by Deutsch that would have banned puberty blockers and gender confirmation surgery for transgender children under 16. He spoke again this year, smiling in relief as he saw Deutch’s bill rejected by the same Senate committee in the same room as last year.

Vogue is starting the process of changing his birth certificate and said it was frustrating to see some lawmakers continually try to interfere in his life.

“I’m 17,” he said. “I need to be living my life worrying about college and not my rights being taken away.”