Lawmakers in South Dakota approved a bill Thursday that bars transgender students from using public bathrooms and locker rooms that don’t match their biological sex.
The bill was passed 58-10 by the state’s overwhelmingly Republican House. It now moves on to the similarly-Republican Senate, and if it passes there it will go before Gov. Dennis Daugaard, also a Republican. Daugaard hasn’t explicitly endorsed the bill, but has said it sounds like a good idea.
Transgender individuals who object to using facilities for their biological sex will have to submit a request for special accommodation in a separate facility, such as a single-person bathroom or a faculty restroom.
Several similar bills have been introduced around the country, but South Dakota’s is the first to be passed by a legislative house.
Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a leading national gay rights group, denounced the bill as “extreme.”
“[Thursday’s] shameful vote puts the Mount Rushmore State on the verge of being the first state in the nation to pass legislation that is nothing more than a vile attack on students who are already vulnerable to high rates of discrimination and harassment,” said HRC senior vice president JoDee Winterhof. “Fair-minded South Dakotans absolutely must stand up now and demand their lawmakers in the Senate stop this hateful legislation from moving any further.”
Despite attempting to label the law as “extreme,” it may not be out of the political mainstream. The limited polling that exists on the issue of transgender bathroom use suggests a sizable majority of Americans believe people should stick to using the bathrooms of their biological sex.
If passed and signed into law, the South Dakota bill would place the state directly at odds with the Obama administration, which has argued that the federal Title IX law requires that students be allowed to use whatever bathroom they want. That interpretation has sometimes run into difficulties in federal court, though.
Rep. Fred Deutsch, one of the bill’s sponsors, explicitly said it was intended to challenge Obama.
“The federal government is now telling our schools that these students must have full, unrestricted access to restrooms, locker rooms and shower rooms,” Deutsch said, according to the Argus Leader. “This means our schools must allow biologic boys and girls to use the same facilities together regardless of biologic sex.”
Deutsch argued that the bill isn’t intended to bully or single out transgender students, but instead to allow all students to have their privacy respected by providing for transgender students to have special accommodations if they wish, without forcing members of the opposite sex to share a bathroom.
“Transgender students are all part of the student population, they’re all our kids and the bill is designed to provide privacy for all students,” he said, according to KDLT News.
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