South Dakota on Slippery Slope With Bill Targeting Transgender People

Note glass mirrors have been replaced with indestructible reflective metal.
Note glass mirrors have been replaced with indestructible reflective metal.

I am a proud fifth generation South Dakotan, a descendant of a member of the very first state legislature, and I'm also transgender.

When I was born, the doctors thought I was female. However, my gender identity, my own personal experience of my gender, is male. I realize this is a complicated issue and difficult to understand but I am absolutely certain of who I am. I am not in any distress, nor am I confused. This is my reality and the reality of many other people in this state.

Everyone has a gender identity and for most people that identity is in line with their biological sex. There are others who have a different experience. Their biological sex and their gender identity diverge to one degree or another. Many people, like me, come to accept and embrace this realization and we live it every day. Our identities are not clothes we can take off when we get home. We can't change in order to be seen one way in one situation and differently in another. This is who we are. And there are those very lucky among us that come to realize who they are when they are still children. I was not one of those lucky ones.

I grew up in Sioux Falls and went to O'Gorman High School in the 70s. I knew I was different but I couldn't define what that meant back then. At that time there was no internet and no instant news and I had no way to know there were other people just like me. I tried to fit in but there wasn't really a place for me and I didn't have many friends. Going to school was painful and made even worse by the dress code -- girls had to wear skirts. I don't think there is any way I can adequately convey how painful it was to be forced to wear something that was so at odds with how I felt about myself. I didn't understand why I had to wear something that caused me so much pain. I also hated gym class and the locker room. I was not comfortable with my body and these things were so psychologically and emotionally damaging to my young mind that I tried to commit suicide. If the adults making the laws in my state were targeting me when I was that young I doubt I would be here today. That suicide attempt would have been completed.

When I think about the bill before our state legislature, House Bill 1008, the feelings I had in high school come back to me. I feel the pain the transgender kids in South Dakota will feel when they are not allowed to use the bathroom of the gender they know themselves to be. I feel the pain they will feel when they are segregated from their peers because some adults are uncomfortable with them. There will be intense emotional pain. There will be tears. There will be missed school days. There will be suicide attempts. And there will come a day when one of those attempts is completed. I don't think this bill is worth the life of even one child.

Let's not forget we are talking about children. They are not a threat to anyone, least of all their classmates. They are worthy of the very best we have to give them. They are also worthy of the same treatment the children around them receive. They deserve to be able to do something as simple as using the bathroom without having to ask permission or be escorted to some kind of makeshift accommodation or to even wait all day until they get home. The children of this state, or any state where similar measures aimed at transgender students are being proposed, do not deserve that.

The comments of some of the lawmakers about this bill and transgender people in general have been stunning, disappointing and extremely hurtful. I firmly believe this hateful rhetoric does not reflect the will of the people of this state. It does not reflect my South Dakota nor the South Dakota of many of the people that live here. My state, the state I love, and the people that live here value our fellow citizens and we value our children. We value equality, individuality and personal freedoms. We are tolerant people and we live and let live. That fact has been demonstrated to me over and over again.

I respectfully call on those who represent us and urge you to vote no on House Bill 1008. If this makes it to Governor Daugaard's desk, I urge him to veto this bill that harms South Dakota's children. No student deserves to be treated like a second class citizen. History will show that this bill threatens to do more harm than good. Every student needs to use the restroom just to get through the day, and most kids do not want to stand out or be made to feel different; South Dakota's transgender students are no different. Don't our lawmakers have something better to worry about than where transgender kids go to the bathroom?

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.