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More anti-transgender fights coming to South Dakota

Both new legislation and a ballot initiative limiting trans rights are on tap in the coming years.

Trans man Terri Bruce helping deliver petitions against the anti-transgender bill back in February. CREDIT: AP Photo/James Nord
Trans man Terri Bruce helping deliver petitions against the anti-transgender bill back in February. CREDIT: AP Photo/James Nord

After North Carolina stole the spotlight last year with its passage of HB2, it’s easy to forget that 2016 started with a fierce debate about transgender rights in South Dakota. Though a bill to require discrimination ultimately lost to a veto, the state clearly isn’t done trying to ban trans students from the bathrooms that match their gender identity.

Jack Heyd, a Republican man living in Box Elder, South Dakota, has filed a ballot initiative that is almost an exact copy of the bill that failed to become law this past year. It dictates that all public schools would have to define sex as “the physical condition of being male or female as determined by a person’s chromosomes and anatomy as identified at birth.” Trans students would not be allowed to use facilities that match their gender identity; the only accommodations that would be allowed would be to segregate them to single-occupancy restrooms, unisex restrooms, or facilities to which faculty members hold a key.

Heyd, who founded the Committee to Ensure Student Privacy to support his efforts, explained that he thinks allowing trans students to use facilities with other students is unsafe and “opens privacy up beyond any reasonable measure.” He worries about people going into restrooms for “nefarious” reasons.

There is no evidence to substantiate the claim that accommodating transgender people endangers anyone.

But as ThinkProgress reported back in February, such a restriction could have dire consequences for transgender students, both in terms of their education and their personal health. In schools that have had such restrictions, students have tried to avoid going to the bathroom during their entire day at school to avoid the shame of having to use an isolated restroom. Likewise, if the only unisex restroom is on the other side of the school, it could cause them to miss class, particularly if they must wait for a staff person to unlock it. And forcing them to use isolated facilities as an “accommodation” outs them to their peers, violating their medical privacy.

To qualify for the 2018 ballot, Heyd and his supporters must collect 13,871 signatures by next November. He hopes to gather twice that.

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State Rep. Fred Deutsch (R), who filed the bill that Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) vetoed this year, applauded Heyd’s efforts. “I support it wholeheartedly,” he told the Argus Leader. “I think it’s a wonderful thing for the people to vote on.”

Lawmakers are reportedly considering revisiting such legislation in 2017. Heyd hopes they can pass it, but “if they can’t get the job done, then I’ll be ready,” he told the AP.