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SD Civil Rights Advocates Oppose Bills Aimed at Transgender Students

LGBT advocates, including Libby Skarin with the ACLU, say two South Dakota bills are discriminating against transgender students. (iStockphoto)
LGBT advocates, including Libby Skarin with the ACLU, say two South Dakota bills are discriminating against transgender students. (iStockphoto)
January 27, 2016

PIERRE, S.D. - South Dakota lawmakers are now considering two bills that LGBT advocates say target transgender students in a negative way. The first passed out of committee Monday and restricts transgender students from using bathrooms designated for people with the opposite physical sex.

The other is a second attempt by Republican lawmakers to repeal a South Dakota High School Activities Association policy allowing transgender students to play on sports teams based on their gender identity. Libby Skarin, policy director with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of South Dakota, opposes both bills.

"In conversations we've had with transgender students across South Dakota and their families, it becomes abundantly clear that these kids really only want to go to school and live their lives in an authentic way," says Skarin. "They don't want to be singled out or segregated from their peers."

State Representative Fred Deutsch is the prime sponsor of the bathroom regulation bill. He says the move would protect the privacy of all students. That legislation could come up before the full House for a vote as early as today.

However, advocates, including the Human Rights Campaign, argue that these bills could run up against federal anti-discrimination regulations. Additionally, Skarin says these types of laws can add to the social problems that transgender students already face.

"We hear these stories from people about why these bill hurt and how they stigmatize them," says Skarin. "But more than that we've got studies that have shown that schools can be a hostile place for LGBT students. Bullying, assaults, et cetera, these things have a severe affect on those kids."

Several school districts across the country are facing similar legal challenges. The U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice have said in the past that legislating separate restrooms for transgender students would be a violation of Title IX rules.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - SD