Stephen Groves
Stephen is a correspondent based in South Dakota.
stephengrovessgroves@ap.org

South Dakota House backs restrictions on trans students

February 1, 2022 GMT

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The South Dakota House on Tuesday passed two bills aimed at transgender students, seeking to restrict which bathrooms K-12 trans children can use and which sports teams trans girls and college-age women can join.

A proposal from Republican Gov. Kristi Noem to ban transgender women and girls from playing in school sports leagues, including college athletes, that match their gender identity cleared its final hurdle in the Legislature with its passage in the House. Meanwhile, a proposal to ban transgender children from using school restrooms that match their gender identity was headed to the Senate.

Advocates for transgender people decried the passage of the bills as another round of bullying by Republican lawmakers. Both trans students and their family members have testified in opposition to the bills, telling lawmakers that the proposals would increase the alienation that such students already face.

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Susan Williams, who has a trans son and directs the Transformation Project, said the House votes Tuesday were “devastating” for her community and generated a flurry of text, email and phone exchanges to offer support and encouragement.

“Right now, it’s a very hostile environment and these kids are feeling unwelcome in their home state,” she said. “Many want to leave as soon as they can. They don’t feel safe or accepted.”

Republicans who support the bills have pushed schools to assess students based on the sex on their birth certificates, basing their arguments on the idea that other students need protection, either from transgender girls and women on sports teams or in bathrooms.

“If we’re going to have boys bathrooms and girls bathrooms, then there has to be some objective standard of who goes in which one, and the only one I can think of is physical, biological sex,” said Republican state Rep. Bethany Soye.

Republican state Rep. Fred Deutsch said he proposed the bill, which would apply to bathrooms, locker rooms and overnight accommodations, after the Vermillion school district in November established a policy that allows students to use restrooms that correspond with their “consistently asserted gender.” The school district’s final policy only applied to bathrooms.

Deutsch pushed a similar bill in 2016 that was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by the state’s Republican governor at the time, Dennis Daugaard. This year’s legislation, which passed on a 38 to 29 vote in the Republican-controlled House, will next be considered by the Senate, where bills aimed at trans people have faced more opposition from Republicans wary of enmeshing the state into legal battles.

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However, the state Senate already passed the bill addressing women’s sports, which is headed to Noem’s desk.

The Republican governor has lobbied forcefully for the bill this year after shying away from signing a similar ban last year. She issued a “style and form veto” that led to its demise and argued that it contained flawed language that put the state at risk of litigation and retribution from the NCAA.

But Noem, who is thought to be considering a 2024 run for the White House, has seized on the momentum of a cause taking hold among Republicans and trumpeted her support for “protecting fairness in women’s sports.”

South Dakota would be the 10th Republican-dominated state to adopt such a ban on transgender women or girls. Federal judges have halted enforcement of such laws in two of those states — Idaho and West Virginia. The U.S. Department of Justice has challenged bans in other states, slamming them as violations of federal law.