SD House passes bill to ban instruction on gender dysphoria in public schools

PIERRE -- South Dakota lawmakers on Tuesday, Feb. 12, passed a bill that would prohibit public schools from teaching about gender dysphoria to students in grades kindergarten through seventh.

House Bill 1108 would prohibit schools from offering instruction on gender dysphoria, which, according to the American Psychiatric Association, “involves a conflict between a person's physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify.” The House of Representatives passed the bill by a 39-30 vote.

Groups like the School Administrators of South Dakota and the Associated School Boards of South Dakota opposed the bill in a legislative committee hearing last week, saying that they do not hear from parents and schools that this is an issue. They also said that determining what should be taught -- or not -- is a decision that is best left to local control.

Rep. Kelly Sullivan, D-Sioux Falls, called it "reckless" to approve the bill when no families or school staff or administrators supported the bill in committee.

"These folks were in the room, of course, but they all asked the committee to vote no on this bill," Sullivan said. "This is unnecessary legislation and does not reflect the reality of what’s happening in South Dakota schools."

The bill's prime sponsor Rep. Tom Pischke, R-Dell Rapids, contended on Tuesday that "instruction on gender dysphoria is actually occurring in South Dakota schools," based on anecdotes he's heard of children coming home from school saying things like, "It's okay for boys to kiss sometimes."

Pischke said the bill isn't meant to discriminate, but to ensure that public schools aren't "confusing our young children." He added that the bill "actually helps to save children from dysphoria."

Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota (ACLU-SD) and the Human Rights Campaign contend that the bill is discriminatory and targets transgender children.

In a Tuesday statement following the House's vote, ACLU-SD Policy Director Libby Skarin said, "This legislation is clearly fueled by a fear and misunderstanding of transgender youth in our state and reinforces the incorrect notion that transgender students are not entitled to the same dignity and respect as all students."

Sullivan questioned whether the bill would restrict transgender children from seeking counselling or guidance -- "They need to stay safe and to stay alive" -- from school teachers or counselors, noting that transgender youth suffer from disproportionately high rates of depression, anxiety and suicide ideation compared to their cisgender peers.

Sullivan went on to call the bill discriminatory, saying that HB 1108 and bills like it single transgender children out.

Rep. Fred Deutsch, R-Florence, in 2016 pushed a bill restricting transgender students' bathroom use, which ultimately failed. He supported HB 1108 during Tuesday's debate, saying, “We have to protect our children that we’re sending to public schools from the influences of other children that are suffering with different disorders.”

“I don’t want my grandchildren going to kindergarten and being confused if they’re a boy or a girl," Deutsch said. "Treat our children with respect, all of them, but let’s not subject them to notions of fancy.”

The bill now moves on to the Senate for consideration before it heads to Republican Gov. Kristi Noem's desk. Noem has in the past supported bathroom bills.

Spokesperson for Noem Kristin Wileman said Tuesday afternoon that Noem and her team are still reviewing HB 1108.