On Tuesday night, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed legislation that would have banned transgender students across the state from using the restrooms and locker rooms of the gender with which they identify.
The South Dakota State Senate passed the bill last month following its approval by the lower House in January, leaving South Dakota poised to become the state first in the nation to have such a law on its books, which would have set the state up for legal challenges that carry national implications. Republican State Senator David Omdahl had said that the law was necessary to "preserve the innocence of our young people," and has called transgender individuals "twisted" and in need of psychological help.
Daugaard announced his veto with an explanation to the legislature, saying that the law didn't address a pressing issue and would have taken local control over this question away from schools and school boards while burdening them with the cost of defending themselves against lawsuits. Opponents of the bill and LGTB advocates had warned lawmakers ahead of the vote that the legislation could trigger lawsuits challenging its constitutionality. The national advocacy group Freedom for All Americans, which campaigns for greater protections for LGBT Americans, said in a statement that local school districts could have to foot the bill for lawsuits by transgender students fighting the bill, and that the state could risk losing federal funding for violating discrimination laws.
"This bill seeks to impose statewide standards on 'every restroom, locker room, and shower room located in a public elementary or secondary school.' It removes the ability of local school districts to determine the most appropriate accommodations for their individual students and replaces that flexibility with a state mandate," the governor wrote. "If and when these rare situations arise, I believe local school officials are best positioned to address them."
Daugaard met with transgender students and advocates ahead of making his decision, a move that transgender activists say was key in helping the governor reach the right decision. He told the Argus Leader after his meeting that the students "put a human face" on the potential consequences of the bill, and remarked that it "helped me see things through their eyes a little better and see more of their perspective."
"We salute Governor Daugaard for meeting with students and listening to the concerns of legal experts and medical professionals about the serious harms caused by denying students equal access to all school programs and activities," Asaf Orr, an attorney with the National Center for Lesbian Rights' Transgender Youth Project, said in a statement. "School policies should be based on evidence, not irrational stereotypes and fears, and should support the health and well-being of all students."
Matt McTighe, the executive director of the LGBT advocacy group Freedom for All Americans, said that the victory in South Dakota was important to the national discussion of discriminatory legislation and that Daugaard's decision was a "strong example for governors nationwide."
"Today marks a victory for the values of privacy and dignity that all Americans hold dear," he said. "But anti-LGBT opponents surely will see this as an occasion to rally — to smear the governor's decision."
Republican Rep. Fred Deutsch, who introduced the bill, said he would not try to override the veto but did not rule out re-submitting the legislation in the future.
"I've talked to legislators from many states who want to do something similar to this," he said.
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