A rise in transgender culture has swept through pop culture and media this past year, and now there are multiple bills regarding the rights of transgender students now being evaluated by the South Dakota Legislature.
House Bill 1008 would require that public schools must provide transgender students with “reasonable accommodations,” and restrooms, locker rooms and shower rooms must only be used by students of the same biological sex.
The bill states reasonable accommodations include single-occupancy restrooms, unisex restrooms or the controlled use of restrooms, locker rooms or shower rooms that are designated for use by faculty.
The bill passed the House of Representatives on Jan. 26 and now goes to the Senate.
Representative Al Novstrup, R-S.D., a cosponsor of the bill, said “it’s a fairly simple bill.”
“Assume we pass no bill — what would happen? It’s still going to be an uncomfortable situation,” he said.
Novtrup said he’s seen no alternative presented from those who voted ‘no’ on HB 1008.
Senator Arthur Rusch, R-S.D., called HB 1008 “a good, moderate approach” to the issue.
Rusch said he doesn’t think the policy would result in less or more bullying of transgender students, but allowing those students to shower with the opposite gender could encourage more bullying.
Representative Ray Ring, D-S.D., said HB 1008 was probably the most difficult decision he’s had to make so far this legislative session.
“After going back and forth and talking to quite a few people, I ended up voting for the bill,” he said.
Ring went back and forth on the bill because he’s aware transgender students and policies should be treated with sensitivity, he said.
“What it came down to was that I think we also need to be sensitive to those people who might also feel stressed by having somebody with the opposite gender and anatomy be in private areas with them,” he said.
Ring said the superintendents he talked with in his district were mostly supportive of HB 1008.
USD junior Chelsea Gilbertson said she’s been following the bills regarding transgender issues closely.
“It removes a child’s choice to decide for themselves what gender they are and then live their lives under that gender,” she said of HB 1008.
Gilbertson said she’s heard people and organizations using the phrase “potty police” to mock the bill.
“South Dakota has a wonderful way of passing ridiculous legislation,” she said.
The solution HB 1008 offers makes legislators’ incentives clear, Gilbertson said.
“This is basically just an attack on transgender identities, because if there were really a problem they could easily initiate a bill to have a gender neutral bathroom, like a single-stall bathroom, but that’s not the case,” she said.
Mandie Weinandt, USD instructor and Spectrum: Gender and Sexuality Alliance adviser, said in an email that HB 1008 forces transgender students to out themselves and takes discretion away from individual school districts.
“This bill targets transgender students for systemic discrimination and sets a government-backed precedent that it is acceptable to target individuals who don’t fit some kind of ‘social norm’ for disparate treatment,” she said.
Rights in Sports
Another bill that addresses transgender rights is House Bill 1112. The bill outlines that, for the purpose of participation in high school activities, “the sole determinant of a student’s sexual identity is the sexual identity noted on the student’s certificate of birth.”
If no sexual identity is noted on a student’s birth certificate, that student is subject to a physical exam by a health care professional, according to
The bill would also dictate that the South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA) may not adopt a transgender policy, and any policy adopted prior to the bill is hereby declared void.
Novstrup also cosponsored HB 1112.
“The concern there, mostly, (is) if a great, big, strong guy wants to play a women’s sport, that doesn’t seem like a fair deal,” he said. “I guess for sports, I think what you’re born is probably more important than what you identify as.”
Rusch said he wouldn’t want to see unfair advantages in sports, but it would also depend on the circumstances.
“I’m a little bit softer in supporting something like that,” he said. “I wouldn’t be too opposed to allowing them to play on the teams that they identify with.”
Rusch added that he believes SDHSAA should be able to make their own policies, rather than having the Legislature stepping in.
Like HB 1008, Gilbertson is opposed to HB 1112.
“We always emphasize participation and so why is that not still the goal? We don’t want it to be about winning and that’s not what it should be about,” she said. “It should be about encouraging everyone to feel comfortable in participating.”
Weinandt said the bill, in addition to invalidating the current SDHSAA transgender policy, isolates transgender students by restricting their participation in athletic events.
“Transgender students are not looking for special treatment or some kind of competitive advantage in high school activities,” she said. “They are asking to be accepted for who they are as individuals and, at a minimum, not be subjected to discrimination.”
Weinandt said she’s been emailing her legislators in addition to getting the word out through social media. She’d love to do more, but said the session’s timing makes it hard for faculty as well as students to be more involved.
Weinandt would be happy to organize a trip for students who’d like to go to Pierre, she added.
Gilbertson said she’d definitely like to see more students actively involved with the state legislative sessions.
“The thing that I really truly learned last session was legislators really take into account when people are there,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important that students need to feel like their voices can be heard.”