Update: On Thursday, HB1108 was voted against by the Senate State Affairs Committee. The proposed legislation is effectively gone, but could technically still move for a final vote in the South Dakota Senate next week.
Legislation to prevent educators from teaching about gender dysphoria passed through the South Dakota House on Tuesday. The proposed law, House Bill 1108, states that, "No instruction in gender dysphoria may be provided to any student in kindergarten through grade seven in any public school in the state."
Critics claim the bill is dangerous and discriminatory. In response to the bill's progression out of the house, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) said HB 1108 would "prevent [teachers] from being able to support students who identify as transgender." HRC also quoted Libby Skarin, policy director for the ACLU of South Dakota, saying, "It is this type of hostility toward young transgender people from adult leaders that contributes to the high rates of depression and even suicide among transgender young people in our state."
HB 1108 is sponsored by several Republicans, including Representative Tom Pischke. Speaking to South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB) about Hb 1108, Pischke said, "This is not a dangerous bill. No one is targeting kids. This bill just prohibits teachers from instructing gender fluidity. I’d submit to you this bill actually helps to save children from this dysphoria. This bill focuses on not instructing to this disease."
Pischke's comment echoes cultural anxieties about childhood and adolescent gender dysphoria that have recently been given a platform in mainstream media and ivy league academic inquiry. Some data has indicated a rise in the number of known trans youth in recent years, or a rapid onset of Gender Dysphoria in youth who previously did not display symptoms, and some have claimed this is evidence of "social contagion"—the idea that kids are becoming gender dysphoric because they are learning that one can be gender dysphoric.
Gender Dysphoria is treatable condition, it is not medically recognized as a disease. Some experts suggest that a growth in "trans visibility in the United States" may be contributing to any increase in young people identifying openly as transgender, as "some youth might find it safer to come out and talk about gender exploration.”
Regardless, mental health issues that transgender people experience are exacerbated by a lack of medical care for gender dysphoria, including social transition. Trans youth also experience increased risk of mental health issues and suicide due to social stigma against their identities; dysphoric youth would be best helped by an accepting society and proper medical care.
In South Dakota, "instruction in gender dysphoria" has already been reported to be uncommon. SDPB noted that "multiple representatives with experience in education spoke for and against the bill, [but] none could recall a specific instance of instructing on gender dysphoria in the classroom."
In a statement to Broadly, HRC's state legislative director and senior counsel Kate Oakley said that "the intent of this bill is to discriminate, plain and simple," pointing to the need for educated compassion around gender identity. "Any teacher will tell you that supporting students as they develop is crucial to their role as educators, and that's particularly true of transgender kids who simply want to be authentically themselves," Oakley said.
HB1108 and the statements made by Pischke about the legislation are out of step with mainstream perspectives on this issue. "This kind of rhetoric is both ignorant and harmful, and it sends a terrible message to youth who are may already be struggling," Oakley explained, adding that while transgender people are gaining support nationwide, "South Dakota stands apart for its relentless and deeply unscientific attacks on the transgender community, particularly kids."