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South Dakota shelves novel bill targeting transgender kids

The sponsor said he didn't really think it through.

South Dakota state Sen. Phil Jensen (R). CREDIT: Facebook/Phil Jensen
South Dakota state Sen. Phil Jensen (R). CREDIT: Facebook/Phil Jensen

South Dakota lawmakers have shelved a first-of-its-kind bill that would have censored discussion of transgender issues in schools. According to the Associated Press, state Sen. Phil Jensen (R) realized “there were issues he hadn’t thought of” when he first proposed S.B. 160.

“It wasn’t a hoax,” he said. “It wasn’t until basically yesterday that I decided that I needed to go a different direction.” The AP said he declined to elaborate, but the bill prompted national outcry that it would have made it impossible for teachers to protect transgender students from bullying.

The comment, along with Jensen’s reputation of strident anti-LGBTQ positions, suggests he may propose something different in the future. Jensen had already proposed another anti-trans bill this session that would require posting warning signs on public restrooms “that a person of the opposite sex may be in the restroom the user is about to enter.”

Jensen’s education bill would have prohibited any “instruction in gender identity or gender expression” to be taught in any K-7 classroom. Jensen expressed concern that kids weren’t properly learning reading, writing, and arithmetic, so trans issues apparently needed to be censored to compensate.

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Seven other states have what have been coined as “no promo homo” laws that explicitly prohibit educators from discussing homosexuality or require that they teach that it’s bad or even illegal, even though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled sodomy laws unconstitutional in 2003. This week, Alabama lawmakers began advancing a bill to remove a provision requiring that sex educators teach “that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of this state.” None of the other six states has taken steps to repeal their censorship laws.

Jensen’s bill was the first in the country to suggest extending such censorship to issues of gender identity and gender expression.

South Dakota has led the way in advancing anti-LGBTQ legislation in recent years. Last year, state lawmakers passed a bill to allow religiously-affiliated adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples. The previous year, they tried to pass a bill mandating discrimination against transgender students in schools, but Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) vetoed it.