The South Dakota House of Representatives voted to approve a bill Tuesday that would erase transgender kids from the state’s schools. Though several states still have “no promo homo” laws that prohibit any discussion of homosexuality in schools, this is the first “no promo trans” bill to actually have traction in the country.
House Bill 1108, which advanced by a vote of 39-30, adds only one line of text to the state’s books: “No instruction in gender dysphoria may be provided to any student in kindergarten through grade seven in any public school in the state.” This simple-sounding legislation could have massive consequences for transgender youth.
Many transgender kids come out at very young ages, and research has consistently shown that they are best served through affirmation, including respecting their names and pronouns. It’s unclear if the legislation would allow schools to accommodate trans kids whatsoever, but it would certainly come into play when a student transitions. Even telling other students what name and pronouns to use for the student might be prohibited, and certainly any education about trans issues to help protect that student from bullying would be a nonstarter.
The legislation would likewise surely result in book banning. While there are a number of age-appropriate books that help kids understand their transgender and gender nonconforming classmates (including I Am Jazz, Julián Is a Mermaid, and Red: A Crayon’s Story) none would be permitted in South Dakota schools.
Lawmakers who supported the bill said they believed discussions on gender belong in the home, not in schools. “I’m 36 years old, and I’m still confused as to what woman-ness and man-ness is,” offered the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tom Pischke (R), “so I don’t know why we’d be teaching that to someone in the fourth grade.” Pischke received a 100-percent rating from Family Heritage Alliance Action, South Dakota’s anti-LGBTQ political advocacy group.
LGBTQ groups have been quick to condemn the legislation. In a statement to ThinkProgress, GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard called the bill “unnecessary, mean-spirited, and harmful to the state’s LGBTQ youth,” imploring the Senate to defeat it. “As a country, we should be working to create learning environments that are inclusive of all students — including transgender and nonbinary students — who deserve to see themselves reflected in the curriculum, just like any other student.”
The National Center for Transgender Equality likewise derided the bill. “This bill is a harmful effort to harm transgender youth that will have ramifications for every South Dakotan,” executive director Mara Keisling said in a statement. “The people of South Dakota know their state cannot stay true to South Dakotan values with a bill like this one the books. If passed, the legislature will have delivered a self-inflicted wound against the entire state.”
South Dakota teachers have also spoken out against the bill, noting that it “implies a lack of trust in our educators.”
This isn’t the first time South Dakota lawmakers have taken aim at transgender students. In addition to considering a similar school censorship bill last year, lawmakers passed a bill back in 2016 that specifically targeted transgender students for discrimination in school bathrooms and locker rooms. Former Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) later vetoed it.
But newly elected Gov. Kristi Noem (R) made clear during her campaign that she would have signed such a discriminatory “bathroom bill.” “We have a unique opportunity to work with legislators to find a situation that will still allow boys to be in boys bathrooms and girls to be in girls bathrooms, and to accommodate other needs,” she said last October. Noem suggested that such legislation would be helpful to meet families’ needs and to make sure “that we have children that are in safe situations.” In other words, she agrees that transgender children are somehow unsafe and should not be respected or accommodated for who they are.
If the anti-trans education bill passes in the state’s Republican-controlled Senate, Noem will likely sign it into law.