South Dakota's Governor Daugaard Rejects Transphobia | Jive in the [415] Blog | Gay LGBT News Political Commentary

March 31, 2016

South Dakota's Governor Daugaard Rejects Transphobia

Map of South Dakota outlined in red with a marker indicating the location of Pierre (the state capital), Sioux Falls, and interesting facts.

It was toward the end of January that I first became aware of legislation introduced in the South Dakota House of Representatives to regulate who has access to restrooms and locker rooms. The law was specifically aimed at a small minority in the state and placed a target squarely on the back of the South Dakota transgender community.

South Dakota Politics And Me

I have more than a passing interest in South Dakota politics because my great-grandfather practiced law in South Dakota. Charles Tisdale Howard was appointed by President Benjamin Harrison to be the first South Dakota U.S. Attorney when the Dakota Territory became a state. He was very active in the Republican party and was later elected to the state Legislature and was Speaker of the South Dakota House.

House Bills 1008 and 1112 were measures in search of a problem. They didn’t address a particular issue in the state, but would create massive problems if they became laws.

The purpose of HB 1008 was to ‘restrict access to certain restrooms and locker rooms in public schools,’ and HB 1112 would ‘establish certain procedures regarding a transgender policy for participation in high school activities and to declare void any present transgender policy of any association recognized under chapter 13-36.’

The GOP is a shell of it’s former self

I thought to myself “there they go again.” The Republican party always has to stick their nose in places where it doesn’t belong.

Since Ronald Reagan was elected president in the olden days, the Republican party has marketed themselves as conservatives who believe in limited government. GOP actions in Washington and state legislatures often expand government's reach and regulation, and there’s nothing conservative about that. I propose that we call them the hypocrisy party because they are fools  liars and hypocrites. Forgive me for digressing.

A white graphic with black text that says the anti-transgender bills would harm 1,360 students in South Dakota per the Williams Institute.

South Dakota bullies and monsters

HB 1008 required that students in South Dakota’s public schools use the restroom of the biological gender recorded on their birth certificate. HB 1112 sought to override the South Dakota High School Activities Association transgender policy that allowed students to be members of teams and organizations that conform with their gender identity. The bill would also mandate that any policy related to transgender students would require approval by the state legislature.

Beating up the transgender community is immoral, inhumane, mean-spirited, bigoted and wrong. Because of my unique connection to South Dakota, I decided to get involved in the campaign to fight this pernicious and harmful legislation. I contacted the ACLU of South Dakota to volunteer my help, and they said thanks but no thanks. So as I’m apt to do, I took the matter into my hands and started calling and writing state legislators.

First in the nation to legislate discrimination

Reporter Dana Ferguson wrote about the assault on the rights of transgender South Dakotans for the Argus Leader.
The South Dakota Legislature is poised to take the lead nationally when it comes to changing laws dealing with transgender residents. 
A handful of proposals would restrict the rights of transgender people and enhance the protections for those who refuse to recognize that choice. That discussion has attracted the attention of national civil rights and LGBT groups, who are now on the offensive and have shifted their attention and forces to Pierre for a battle over transgender rights. 
“South Dakota is even at the front of that trend of anti-transgender policy," said Kate Oakley, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign. “And it’s taking a slightly different form in South Dakota, a more egregious form in South Dakota." 
Backers of the measures say they are necessary to offset decisions made by President Barack Obama's administration. They say his interpretation of a federal anti-discrimination policy expands too far in covering transgender students and reprimands have been unwarranted for conservatives affiliated with the government who voice their religious views. 
“We’ve never seen such an unprecedented attack on religious expression,” said Rep. Scott Craig, a Rapid City Republican who is sponsoring one of the bills. “The call or the cry for tolerance is definitely a one-way street." 
Rep. Fred Deutsch, R-Florence, brought a bill this session that would bar transgender students from bathrooms, locker rooms and shower rooms unless they correspond with their biological sex. He said it was intended to promote privacy for all students and it would require schools to provide a "reasonable accommodation" for transgender students. 
Deutsch acknowledged that the measure would likely face lawsuits if schools opted to enact it, but he said schools could also face litigation if they allowed transgender students to use restrooms that didn't correspond with their biological sex. He also said the federal Department of Education's interpretations of Title IX under the Obama administration could be overturned under a Republican president.
Deutsch is a state legislator and the president of the South Dakota' Right To Life' Organization. When I read his reason for introducing the bill, I was struck by the meanness and stupidity. The bill would require ‘reasonable accommodation’ and some people interpreted that part of the law as a requirement to construct new bathrooms in every public school. The expense would be astronomical. The lawsuits would cost the state money, a loss in federal education dollars would hurt the state, and these measures were introduced to hurt people.

The state legislature was knowingly choosing to harm state residents

HB 1008 passed both houses of the legislature and went to the governor for his signature. It was reported that he was going to sign the bill, so I called the governor’s office and funny enough he was in a meeting. I wrote the governor a letter.
February 25, 2016 
The Honorable Dennis Daugaard 
Dear Governor Daugaard: 
I hope this letter finds you well and that you will receive this in a timely manner. I have a story to share with you about a great native son of your state. He was a Republican, who loved South Dakota and served the people of your great state and had a positive impact on me. 
My great-grandparents were early settlers of Redfield, South Dakota. After my great-grandad Charles Tisdale Howard graduated from college and passed the bar exam, he and his family moved to the Spink County seat in the Dakota territory in 1882, where he practiced law and was active in the Republican party. 
South Dakota became a state in 1889, and he was appointed as the first U.S. Attorney for South Dakota by President Benjamin Harrison. In 1894, he ran for a House seat in the South Dakota state legislature and was elected the fourth speaker of the House. 
The Republican party in South Dakota today would be unrecognizable to my great-grandfather. At the end of the 19th century, the GOP was devoted to protecting and advancing the rights of African-Americans and former slaves. Today South Dakota Republicans are committed to promoting homophobia and transphobia while bullying and inflicting irreparable harm on minority groups in your state. 
I’m referring to HB 1008 “an Act to restrict access to certain restrooms and locker rooms in public schools.” 
I’m writing to express my concern that national, state and local anti-LGBT organizations are spreading propaganda and misinformation to demonize transgender people and exert pressure on you to sign this punitive and unnecessary measure. 
I applaud you for meeting with transgender activists a few days ago. Meeting your constituents and hearing their personal stories is the most efficient way to learn about a disenfranchised community. I hope you will continue that dialogue. 
Concomitantly, I must urge you to veto HB 1008, because signing this bill would subject young school-age South Dakotans to increased scrutiny which will negatively impact their lives. This bill endangers their physical safety, health, mental health and personal privacy. Also, if this bill becomes law, your state will be penalized by the US Department of Education. How will a reduction in federal funds affect your education budget and teacher pay? 
Right now you have two options. You can sign the bill and be cheered and praised by the extreme right-wing elements of the Republican party. Or you can be courageous and veto the bill, and be a true humanitarian who cares about the well-being of all South Dakotans (Washington state and Virginia both rejected similar measures recently). 
You and your state legislators should know that anti-transgender bias is directly responsible for increased levels of verbal and physical harassment, violence, family rejection, housing instability and discrimination in health care and employment. This bill would add to that. 
Anti-LGBT violence impacts the transgender community disproportionately, and 72 percent of anti-LGBT homicide victims are transgender women while 67 percent of anti-LGBT homicide victims are transgender women of color. 
The 2014 National Transgender Discrimination Survey revealed the following:
  • Transgender people who experience bullying, rejection and discrimination have a higher rate of suicide attempts.
  • 78 percent of survey respondents who suffered physical or sexual violence at school reported suicide attempts.
  • 65 percent of survey respondents who experienced violence at work reported suicide attempts.
  • 51 percent of survey respondents who experienced harassment or bullying in schools reported suicide attempts.
  • 57 percent of survey respondents who said that their family chose not to speak/spend time with them reported suicide attempts.
  • 19 percent of survey respondents stated that they had suffered domestic abuse because of their gender identity.
  • 50 percent of survey respondents admit that they've been harassed in the workplace.
And those numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. 
Rep. Charles Tisdale Howard of Redfield married Eugenia Beecher, and they named their fourth child Harriet (my grandmother) after Eugenia’s favorite aunt, Harriet Beecher Stowe. When Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe for the first time, it was reported that he said: “so you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” 
Charles and Eugenia Howard had four children, nine grandchildren, and twenty-six great-grandchildren (including two gay great-grandchildren).

From Harriet Beecher Stowe to Charles and Eugenia Howard, to Admiral Roy A. Gano and Harriet Howard Gano (my grandparents), to my parents, it was instilled in me not to be disaffected, and to stand up and fight for what’s right and what I believe in. That’s why I’m writing and sharing my story in this letter. 
If HB 1008 is enacted, how much will it cost the state of South Dakota? The loss of federal funds, the cost of lengthy litigation, and the possibility that every public building would have to build and construct additional restrooms to accommodate the law makes the cost prohibitive. If you add in the human cost, and the damage the bill inflicts on LGBT people, the cost increases astronomically. 
Our Constitution has an equal protection clause. Does this bill extend equal protection or does it diminish the few legal protections LGBT people have? 
You know the answer just as I am aware of the answer. That’s why I’m confident that you will veto this ridiculous legislation. 
Thank you for your time Governor. 
With best wishes, I remain 
Roy Steele 
San Francisco, CA

Tipping the balance

The South Dakota ACLU urged the governor to meet with members of the transgender community because he had remarked that he didn’t know anyone who was trans. I give the governor props because he consented to the meeting and I would bet that meeting his constituents did the most to change his mind.

Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard is the 32nd governor of South Dakota and elected to his first term in 2010. On March 1st, 2016, he vetoed HB 1008. He surprised the nation and shocked the state legislature. I have to say that I have a tremendous amount of respect for Governor Daugaard. I don’t care about the reason he vetoed that awful bill; I just care that he did it. I tip my hat to Dennis Daugaard for doing the right thing.

The fight is not over

As a result of the veto, HB 1112 was ‘tabled.’ Rep. Deutsch said he was going to reintroduce HB 1008 next year, according to the Argus Leader. 
A South Dakota lawmaker said a days-old North Carolina transgender bathroom law could be a model for the South Dakota Legislature to consider next year. 
"The North Carolina bill is worthwhile to look at," Rep. Fred Deutsch, R-Florence, said. "Our objective is to protect student privacy." 
Deutsch made the comments hours after transgender residents and civil liberties groups sued over North Carolina's law in federal court Monday. Since North Carolina's governor signed the bill last week, the state has seen protests and threats of boycott.
Student privacy my ass. I promise that I’ll be paying close attention to that. 

A map of South Dakota and a quote from Roy Steele urging governor to veto HB1008.

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