UPDATE: 1:10 p.m. EST -- GLAAD, the nation's largest media advocacy group for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, on Wednesday blasted a bill passed by the South Dakota Legislature that requires public schools to create separate, but equal bathroom and locker room facilities for transgender youths. The bill, which awaits the signature or veto from the state's Republican governor, would stigmatize transgender students, forcing them to out themselves by using a separate bathroom, GLAAD said.
“As the mother of twins, when I send my kids to school, I expect them to be safe and shielded from ridicule,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the GLAAD president and CEO, said in a statement. “This discriminatory bill puts our children in harm’s way, fueling stigma, bullying, and a climate of hate," she added, urging Gov. Dennis Daugaard to veto the "mean-spirited and destructive bill.”
Unless activists and members of South Dakota's lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual community are successful in convincing their governor otherwise, the state could soon become the first that bans transgender students in public schools from using restrooms consistent with their gender identity. In a 20-15 vote, the state Senate gave final approval of a bill already passed last month by the state House of Representatives on the issue of restricting gendered school facilities to use by students of the same biological sex, according to CNN.
While South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, mulls signing the legislation, civil liberties groups said they planned to speak out on the potential harm the bill could cause to transgender students. Heather Smith, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in South Dakota, noted Tuesday how the bill targets already “vulnerable transgender students” with policies that are patently discriminatory.
“Lawmakers heard from South Dakota parents, teachers, students, school counselors, clergy, and mental health professionals who wrote emails and traveled to Pierre [the capital] from all corners of the state to testify and demonstrate the ways in which this bill does real harm to transgender students,” Smith said in a statement. But because elected representatives have chosen not to listen to constituents most affected by the legislation, “South Dakota stands to lose,” she added.
The bill stipulates that if a student identifies as transgender and a parent "consents to that assertion in writing," the student can be given separate single-occupancy restrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities. The separate facilities should be a “reasonable accommodation” for transgender students, CNN reports.
Daugaard, who planned to listen to recorded testimony from state Senate and House consideration of the bill before making a decision about signing, has said the measure sounds like a good idea, the Argus Leader reported. Meanwhile, conservative Christian groups have praised the bill.
"This is such the right thing to do to protect all of our students," said Dale Bartscher, spokesman of Family Heritage Alliance Action. "It's a privacy bill; it's a modesty bill. It's sensible, South Dakota common sense."
But members of the transgender community couldn’t disagree with Bartscher more. Rebecca Dodds, parent of a transgender teenager in South Dakota, said her son lived in fear at school because of the lack of supportive policies. The transgender bathroom bill will only make it worse, she said.
“Forcing schools to adhere to a policy that singles out transgender children like my son makes them more likely to experience harassment and violence in school,” Dodds said in a statement released by the ACLU.
Terri Bruce, a transgender South Dakotan, said feelings of isolation have been linked to an increased rate of suicide attempts among transgender teens. “I feel the pain [transgender students] will feel when they are segregated from their peers because some adults are uncomfortable with them,” Bruce said in the ACLU statement. “There will be suicide attempts. And there will come a day when one of those attempts is successful. I don’t think this bill is worth the life of even one child.”