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Gov. Dennis Daugaard meets with group of transgender people

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) -- Gov. Dennis Daugaard heard from several transgender people during a meeting Tuesday at the Capitol, where activists gathered to urge the governor to veto a bill that would require students to use bathrooms and locker rooms th...

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Gov. Dennis Daugaard heard from several transgender people during a meeting Tuesday at the Capitol, where activists gathered to urge the governor to veto a bill that would require students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their sex at birth.

A Sioux Falls nonprofit asked for the time because Daugaard said he hadn't knowingly met a transgender person, though he is now weighing a bill at his desk that would make South Dakota the first state in the U.S. to approve such a law.

The Republican governor heard the personal stories of three young transgender people and one of their mothers during the roughly 30-minute private meeting. The governor was genuine, responsive and asked questions, said Kendra Heathscott, one of the attendees and a board member of the Center for Equality in Sioux Falls.

"It helped me see things through their eyes a little bit and understand their perspective," Daugaard said shortly afterward.

Advocates for transgender rights rallied and talked to state lawmakers at the Capitol before the meeting with Daugaard. Opponents of the bill also said they delivered more than 80,000 signatures to the governor pushing him to veto the bill.

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Critics ranging from transgender Sioux Falls high school student Thomas Lewis to Olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner have called for him to do so. Lewis, who was in the meeting, said he tried to make Daugaard understand that "we're all human and we all just want to use the bathroom."

"I really think he got from our stories that we're human beings and we want to be treated like every human being deserves to be treated - with respect," Lewis said.

Daugaard is weighing both sides of the issue before deciding how he will act, and he has also met with the bill's sponsors.

Republican Rep. Fred Deutsch, the measure's main House sponsor, said he gave the governor some documents during the brief meeting and explained why he brought the bill forward.

The deadline for Daugaard to act on the proposal is March 1.

"Of course, I have my own set of values," Daugaard said. "They're going to, in the end, drive the decision with the information I have."

The bill spurred early condemnation from the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota and LGBT-rights organizations. As it passed its final vote in the state Senate, opponents across the country starting using a Twitter hashtag created by South Dakota's Tourism Department to pan lawmakers for advancing the legislation and take aim at the state's roughly $3.8 billion visitor industry.

Under the plan, schools would have to provide a "reasonable accommodation" for transgender students, such as a single-occupancy bathroom or the "controlled use" of a staff-designated restroom, locker room or shower room.

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"If the governor were to sign this, we'd be the only state in the nation that has laws for accommodating the needs of transgender students," Deutsch said. "The only one."

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