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Will This Governor Sign 'Unprecedented and Extreme' Bill Attacking Trans Students?

'We should all be concerned when our lawmakers are encouraging state-sanctioned discrimination.'

"This bill hurts transgender students, takes away control from local schools, and doesn’t solve any problems," said NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling.(Photo: amboo who?/flickr/cc)

South Dakota could make history as the first state in the nation to bar transgender youth in public schools from using restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity.

All that's missing is the governor's signature on newly passed legislation. 

Thomas Lewis, a transgender 18-year-old senior at Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls, told state lawmakers that such a law "makes me feel like I'm not a human being."

According to Kyle Palazzolo, Staff Attorney in the Midwest Regional Office of Lambda Legal, the legislation, HB 1008, is "an attack on some of the most vulnerable members of our community, transgender young people."

"An attack like this is unprecedented and extreme," Palazzolo said.

The legislation states: "Every restroom, locker room, and shower room located in a public elementary or secondary school that is designated for student use and is accessible by multiple students at the same time shall be designated for and used only by students of the same biological sex." It states that "biological sex" is "determined by a person's chromosomes and anatomy as identified at birth."

It allows for "reasonable accommodation," such " a single-occupancy restroom, a unisex restroom, or the controlled use of a restroom, locker room, or shower room that is designated for use by faculty." But it must be an accommodation "that does not impose an undue hardship on a school district."

There's something in the air...

Billed by its supporters as a way of protecting children, some opponents threatened a tourism boycott—a $3.8 billion industry, the Argus Leader reports—if the discriminatory measure becomes law.

The measure passed the state House last month and the Senate on Tuesday, and now heads to the desk of South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who has said he'd meet with both the bill's sponsors as well as transgender students and representatives from the Sioux Falls-based Center for Equality before making his decision. That decision was welcomed by advocacy groups.

"Knowledge is power, and we hope that by learning about their experiences, the daily challenges they face, and the damage this bill will inflict on their lives, Gov. Daugaard will show true leadership and reject this measure," said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. "History has never looked kindly upon those who attack the basic civil rights of their fellow Americans, and history will not treat kindly those who support this discriminatory measure."

The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) also urged Daugaard to veto the measure, and noted that HB 1008 is just one of several anti-transgender bills that the state's legislature is voting on this month.

"This bill hurts transgender students, takes away control from local schools, and doesn’t solve any problems. In fact, it does more harm than good to both trans kids and South Dakota’s reputation," NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling said.

As Chase Strangio, staff attorney with the ACLU told Democracy Now! Thursday, it's not just transgender students that should be worried about HB 1008. "We should all be concerned when our lawmakers are encouraging state-sanctioned discrimination."

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