South Dakota Governor Vetoes Transgender Bathroom Bill

LGBT advocates called the bill discriminatory and a violation of federal law.
(Photo: Jonathan Kirn/Getty Images)
Mar 1, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed a controversial bill on Tuesday that would have required transgender students in public schools to use only the restrooms, locker rooms, and shower rooms that corresponded to their sex at birth.

The bill, which was introduced into the Republican-controlled House in January and passed the Senate last month, garnered national attention because it would have made South Dakota the first state to impose such restrictions on children in public elementary and secondary schools.

Human rights organizations and celebrity LGBT activists, including Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, urged Daugaard last month to veto the bill, calling it discriminatory.

In his veto, Daugaard wrote that the bill does not address any pressing issue within the state's school district. "Local school districts can, and have, made necessary restroom and locker room accommodations that serve the best interests of all students, regardless of biological sex or gender identity," he wrote. He reasoned that local school officials are better positioned to accommodate the needs of individual students on a case-by-case basis, as opposed to government bureaucrats trying to draw up a one-size-fits-all policy pertaining to a private matter.

The bill stipulated that allowing transgender students to use a restroom designated for "the opposite biological sex" would have been an "undue hardship" on a school district. Transgender students who wished to use facilities that matched their gender identity but not their sex at birth would have had to get a written note from their parent or guardian for the school to consider allowing them access to a single-occupancy restroom, if available.

State legislators said the bill was designed to protect kids' privacy and well-being. The bill also sought to make it more difficult for students to sue the districts for discrimination, requiring the attorney general to represent schools in any such lawsuit and for the state—not the districts—to cover all associated legal expenses.

At least 10 other states have introduced more than two dozen similar bills aimed at restricting transgender people's access to restrooms or ability to participate in school, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

In November, Houston voted down an ordinance that would have ensured legal protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation, including the right to choose which bathroom to use. Through an aggressive campaign, opponents of the ballot measure argued that it would enable sexual predators to prey on people in restrooms.

On Tuesday, LGBT and civil rights groups, including the ACLU and the Human Rights Campaign, applauded the governor's decision. Thanks to the veto, South Dakota will be spared "the risky and costly experiment of becoming the first state to mandate discrimination against transgender youth," Kris Hayashi, executive director of Transgender Law Center, said in a statement, calling the bill a violation of federal law. To other states considering so-called bathroom laws aimed at young people, Hayashi said this veto sends an important message: "Discrimination is harmful for everyone."