- Associated Press - Thursday, February 11, 2016

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A bill limiting transgender students’ use of bathrooms and locker rooms is headed to the full Senate against the urging of transgender people who testified, some clergy members and advocacy groups.

The Senate Education Committee approved a measure Thursday that would require students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their biological sex at birth. The House has already passed the measure, which advocates argue is meant to protect the privacy of students, but opponents say discriminates against vulnerable adolescents.

Under the plan, schools would have to provide a “reasonable accommodation” for transgender students, such as a single-occupancy bathroom or the “controlled use” of a staff-designated restroom, locker room or shower room.

Thomas Lewis, a transgender student at Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls, set down two thick binders with a loud thud Thursday before addressing the committee. The binders were filled with thousands of signatures from opponents of the proposal.

The bill isolates transgender students, said Lewis, who is a senior.

“It makes me feel like I’m not a human being,” he said. “It makes us feel like we’re all alone in the world and that the stigma that we face already is real.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota and the Human Rights Campaign oppose the measure and say South Dakota would be the first state to pass such a law.

“This outrageous legislation is a blatant attack on transgender children,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement.

Advocates have also criticized some lawmakers’ comments about transgender people.

“I’m sorry if you’re so twisted you don’t know who you are,” Republican Sen. David Omdahl said at a recent event when asked about the bill. “I’m telling you right now, it’s about protecting the kids, and I don’t even understand where our society is these days.”

Republican Rep. Fred Deutsch said his bathroom plan is a reasonable solution to “a complex social issue.” He said the proposal is about respecting children’s privacy.

“Do we want our boys and girls to shower together, change clothes together and use restrooms together?” Deutsch said.

The plan is a response to changes in the Obama administration’s interpretation of the federal Title IX anti-discrimination law related to education, he said.

Federal officials have said that barring students from restrooms that match their gender identity is prohibited under Title IX.

Schools that don’t comply run the “very real risk” of losing their federal funding, said Libby Skarin, policy director at the ACLU of South Dakota.

The bathroom bill is one of several measures introduced this session addressing transgender rights. Some legislators this session are also attempting again to void a high school activities association policy allowing transgender student athletes to request playing on the team of their choice.

It isn’t clear when the bathroom bill will be taken up by the Senate, which could vote to send it to Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

The governor offered a positive reaction to the bill “at first blush,” but said he would likely review testimony so he fully understands both sides of the issue before making a decision.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide