South Dakota to consider transgender locker room bill

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota lawmakers will consider restricting which locker rooms transgender students can use, reigniting a bitter fight from last year over what school facilities are open to transgender students.

The bill, introduced Wednesday by two Republican lawmakers, would require public school students to use the locker rooms, shower rooms and changing facilities that match their sex at birth. It comes after Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed a broader bill last year that also applied to bathrooms. His chief of staff, Tony Venhuizen, said Wednesday that Daugaard intends to veto a bill that is "substantially the same" as last year's measure.

Republican Sen. Lance Russell, the main sponsor of this year's bill, said shower and changing rooms are likely the "most sensitive places in the school." It is important for the Legislature to set legal guidelines that would allow the South Dakota attorney general to be involved in a potential discrimination lawsuit brought against a school district, he said.

Libby Skarin, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, said in a statement that lawmakers should reject the bill and "and all attempts to codify discrimination." It's disappointing that legislators are targeting transgender kids, who are already very vulnerable, said Terri Bruce, a 53-year-old transgender man who fought against the bill last year.

"Transgender girls are girls. Transgender boys are boys. Period," Bruce said. "Do we really have to do this again?"

Russell said he doesn't believe the bill is discriminatory. The measure says that schools could provide accommodations such as a single-occupancy restroom or changing facility at someone's request because of special circumstances.

"I am simply interested in protecting all of the students and giving reasonable accommodation to everyone involved," he said.

Russell said he hasn't had any direct discussions with Daugaard's office. Venhuizen said that even with bathrooms removed, Daugaard still views it as an issue best dealt with locally.

A ballot measure that would require transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with their sex at birth may go before voters in 2018. Ballot measure sponsor Jack Heyd of Box Elder has said he wants to protect children and ensure that students have privacy.