PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota Senate panel rejected a bill Friday to limit teaching about gender dysphoria in public schools after a transgender high school student told members that passing the measure would only ensure “another generation of isolation that would erase people like me.”
It’s the third bill aimed at transgender people that state lawmakers rejected during the 2019 legislative session; another is set to be decided next week.
Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, recently said that South Dakota introduced four “anti-trans” bills this year, more than any other state.
On Friday, the Senate State Affairs Committee voted 7-2 against the gender dysphoria measure, which passed the House last week. It would have prohibited public school instruction on the topic through seventh grade.
People with gender dysphoria suffer discomfort or distress due to the difference between their gender identity and gender at birth.
Republican Rep. Tom Pischke, the measure’s sponsor, repeated previous testimony, saying his intent was to make sure public schools aren’t confusing children and making them “more susceptible to this dysphoria.” Parents should be the ones having discussions about gender fluidity with their children — and only if they’re necessary, Pischke said.
School Administrators of South Dakota executive director Rob Monson said the practice isn’t happening in state schools and the bill wasn’t necessary.
Oliver Dickman, a transgender high school senior from Yankton, told committee members that the measure — House Bill 1108 — made him feel like he’s not welcome in South Dakota.
“Not being able to learn who or what is in our society creates an unknown bubble around the trans community, and people fear the unknown,” said Dickman, 17. “Passing a bill such as 1108 would only ensure another generation of isolation that would erase people like me.”
The bill’s rejection was a “tremendous relief,” Dickman said after the vote. He added that he feels like he can be proudly who he is in his high school.
“It means that I am welcomed here in South Dakota, and that my Capitol supports me and who I am,” Dickman said.
But he said the Legislature’s slate of bills targeting transgender people have brought him down. It feels like generations younger than him aren’t safe if lawmakers are trying to pass bills that will “prevent them from living their lives,” Dickman said.
A House panel earlier this month rejected a measure that said a parent can refuse consent to health care treatments for a minor child if the parent thought it would induce, confirm or promote the child’s belief that their gender identity is different than their sex at birth. A Senate panel in January voted down a bill that would have voided an activities association policy allowing transgender students’ request to participate on the athletic team that matches their gender identity.
A House panel on Thursday advanced without recommendation a similar transgender student athlete bill, which is set to come up next week.
Shortly before the gender dysphoria bill was voted down, a House committee rejected a measure that would have made sexual orientation and gender identity part of the state hate crime law, which currently includes race, ethnicity, religion, ancestry and national origin.
It would have meant a lot if they had been added, Dickman said.
“I oftentimes don’t feel safe driving to Sioux Falls and going to the mall with my friends unless I have at least a few friends with me who I know would stand up for me,” he said.