PIERRE, S.D. — For the third time nearly halfway into South Dakota’s 2019 legislative session, a committee hearing erupted into a debate about the rights of transgender children.
The House Health and Human Services committee on Thursday, Feb. 7, debated and ultimately killed House Bill 1205, which would have established a parent’s right to refuse transitional health care treatment for their transgender child.
Proponents of the bill said it was about protecting parents’ rights — not about denying rights to transgender children.
“I don’t think everybody needs to look it (as) because we are for this bill, that we are against anything else,” Julie Frye-Mueller, R-Rapid City, said in the committee’s meeting.
“Human rights do not outrank parents’ rights,” she added. “Maybe the parents have a different way of working with that child that’s going through these issues. … It’s not the state’s responsibility to override the parents’ decisions.”
But opponents of the bill said the bill was discriminatory and excused parents from providing not only physical health care — such as hormone therapy or surgery — but also mental health treatment or therapy to transgender children.
Under HB 1205, an official could not penalize a parent for refusing their child transitional treatment. For example, a judge could not use it as a reason to deny a parent custody in family court.
Roger Tellinghuisen, a registered lobbyist for the Human Rights Campaign, said the bill was discriminatory because it “minimizes the true medical need for transition-related care.”
“It implies that a parent’s objection to their child being transgender somehow obfuscates the child’s identity and trumps the child’s legitimate medical needs,” Tellinghuisen said. “Ultimately, it singles out some types of medical care for differential treatments simply because of stigma or dislike of the people requiring that treatment.”
In addition to the Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota and the National Association of Social Workers of South Dakota opposed HB 1205. The committee ultimately voted 10-3 to defer the bill to the 41st legislative day —effectively killing it.
HB 1205 wasn’t the legislature’s first bill revolving around transgender children since the start of the session in January. The Senate Education committee on Jan. 24 killed a Senate bill that would have required transgender student athletes to compete based on their “birth sex.” Since that bill’s defeat, a similar bill has been introduced in the House in a second effort to get it to a floor vote. Additionally, the House Education committee on Wednesday, Feb. 6, passed a bill that prohibits public schools from teaching about gender dysphoria to students in grades kindergarten through seven.
Opponents of these bills say they single out and attack a population already vulnerable to bullying and disproportionate rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. William Kayser, a University of South Dakota senior who identifies as transgender, said last month that these bills can make young transgender South Dakotans, as a whole, feel unsafe and unwelcome.
“You see this and then you immediately become the ostracized person,” Kayser said. “You’re the person that everyone stares at.”
House Minority Whip Rep. Erin Healy, D-Sioux Falls, voted against HB 1205 at Thursday’s hearing. She said after the hearing that bills like HB 1205 are “discriminatory legislation that is being masked as what’s best for (transgender children).”
“In actuality, (legislators) don’t understand the transgender community at all and they haven't even spoken to those families in that community to understand exactly what their needs are,” Healy said.
Healy went on to call the legislature’s ongoing focus on such bills discriminatory and a waste of the body’s time.
“We should be focusing on policies that actually make a difference and impact South Dakotans’ lives and we’re wasting our time on legislation that continuously tries to chip away at the rights of transgender kids,” Healy said. “If we were going after other kids or other groups of people, that would be seen as discriminatory, too.”