South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard (R) on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have forced transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their biological sex, rather than their gender identity.
"Today Governor Daugaard made a symbolic statement that South Dakota’s transgender students are a valued part of the community and that our state leaders won’t be swayed by out-of-state groups that don’t have the interests of South Dakotans at heart," said Heather Smith, executive director of ACLU South Dakota.
"People from across the state and country took time to reach out to the governor to urge this veto—that’s the true testament of democracy," Smith said. "There was no place for discrimination in South Dakota when this bill was initially proposed by a handful of legislators, and today the governor confirmed unequivocally that discrimination has no place in our future. Thank you governor, for listening to the collective voices of South Dakotans and voting your values."
The veto blocked the nation's first anti-transgender bathroom bill to pass state legislature. However, as ACLU-SD pointed out, 16 other states are still considering enacting similar laws.
Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with ACLU's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project, said the governor's decision "will place him unequivocally on the right side of history. Federal law is clear that transgender students are protected under Title IX and the governor’s veto prevents costly investigations into school districts across South Dakota."
"Hopefully this important action by Governor Daugaard will allow the state and other states across the country to continue to invest in the safety of all students instead of singling out a vulnerable few for isolation and discrimination," Strangio said.
South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard (R) is expected on Tuesday to make a decision, one way or another, on a controversial bill that critics say targets and stigmatizes transgender students.
Daugaard had until Tuesday to either approve or veto legislation, known as HB 1008, that would force transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their biological sex, rather than their gender identity, or else request that the school provide them with a third "reasonable accommodation."
The governor met with the bill's sponsor, Rep. Fred Deutsch, at 4:00pm CST, and is expected to make an announcement shortly after that.
Deutsch has previously said he introduced the legislation "to protect the innocence of children." However, LGBTQI rights advocates say it does nothing but single out transgender students and create a culture that separates them from their peers.
"We know transgender students face staggeringly rates of depression and anxiety, and an alarming 41% of transgender people have attempted suicide," said Heather Smith, executive director of ACLU South Dakota, in a statement in February. "H.B. 1008 would do nothing to protect students privacy but it will do real and lasting harm to vulnerable transgender students."
The organization said it would consider filing a lawsuit if the legislation is approved.
Ashley Joubert-Gaddis, director of operations at the Sioux Falls-based Center for Equality, told USA Today last week, "What this amounts to is legislators saying we didn't win the gay marriage fight, so let's go after someone else."
Daugaard met with transgender rights activists last week, who said they hoped to influence him to veto the bill. The governor said the sit-down "helped me see things through their eyes a little bit and understand their perspective."
Still, he added, "I have my own set of values and in the end I'll make my own decisions."