South Dakota Governor Vetoes Bathroom Bill Aimed At Transgender School Students

South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard on Tuesday vetoed a so-called “Bathroom Bill” that would have forced students in all South Dakota public schools to use the bathroom and locker room corresponding to the gender assigned to them at birth, rather than their sexual identity.

As Slate reports, the bathroom bill had easily sailed through Mount Rushmore State’s Republican-dominated legislature, and until recently, Daugaard was expected to sign it into law.

South Dakota Bathroom Bill
South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard has vetoed a controversial "bathroom bill." [AP Photo/James Nord, File]

However, it appears Daugaard changed his mind after a variety of groups – among them the Human Rights Campaign (an LGBTQ advocacy organization) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – complained that the bathroom bill was discriminatory.

But Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern opines that what truly changed Daugaard’s mind about the bathroom bill was meeting with actual transgender people, something he had never done before the bill came before the South Dakota legislature.

In February, according to a Slate report at the time, three transgender South Dakotans, two of them high school students, sat down with the governor to put a human face on the “transgender” label. One of those students, 18-year-old high school senior Thomas Lewis, said that Daugaard was surprisingly open. Lewis says the governor listened respectfully as Thomas talked about his discomfort using the bathroom that corresponds to the gender he was assigned at birth.

“We just put forth our stories and talked about how a bill like this would affect us. In some cases, it was ‘I’d been bullied’ and in other cases it was ‘I haven’t experienced bullying, but I’m still afraid to use the appropriate restroom.'”

In a statement, Daugaard put for other reasons for vetoing the bathroom bill, besides having been moved by the stories of the transgender youth he met. One reason, he said, was that signing the bill into law would have cost South Dakota about $195 million in federal funding because it violates Title IX, a federal statute that forbids discrimination against transgender school students.

Another reason for vetoing the bill, he said, was that there was no real reason for the bill other than unfounded fears of sexual predators in bathrooms.

Mostly, he said, he vetoed the bathroom bill simply because its one-size-fits-all nature would apply to every last public school in South Dakota, and as a small-government Republican, he believes that decisions about schools are best made at the local level.

“This bill seeks to impose statewide standards on ‘every restroom, locker room, and shower room located in a public elementary or secondary school.’ It removes the ability of local school districts to determine the most appropriate accommodations for their individual students and replaces that flexibility with a state mandate.”

Some South Dakota Republicans, however, insist that a bathroom bill aimed at keeping transgender students out of the other sex’s bathrooms is necessary to protect kids from sexual predators, according to MSN. One such Republican is Sen. David Omdahl, who, in February, had this to say when asked about the bathroom bill.

“I’m sorry if you’re so twisted you don’t know who you are. I’m telling you right now, it’s about protecting the kids, and I don’t even understand where our society is these days.”

Outside of South Dakota, laws allowing transgender individuals – children, teens, and adults – to use the bathroom that corresponds to their sexual identity, or mandating that they use the one that corresponds to their gender assigned at birth, continue to generate heated controversy. For example, in Seattle, according to this Inquisitr report, a biological male making no attempt to present himself as female walked into a women’s locker room at a public pool – twice, and once when there were little girls present – and attempted to undress. When asked to leave, he protested that he is allowed to because he’s transgender.

Do you believe South Dakota should have passed the bathroom bill and required school students to use the bathroom that corresponds to their identity assigned to them at birth? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

[Image via Shutterstock/Andy Dean Photography]