SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — In South Dakota’s 2023 legislative session, three bills were introduced that would target transgender individuals in the state.
These are House Bills 1125, 1116 and 1080.
1125 is a bill that would ban minors from being exposed to drag performance, which the bill defined as “singing, speaking, dancing, acting, simulation, or pantomiming, where a performer, in a lewd and lascivious manner, and in the presence of others, exhibits a gender identity that is different from the performer’s biological sex through the use of clothing, makeup, or other physical markers.” This bill was tabled on Feb. 13.
1116 also sought to ban drag, this time from any state owned facility, defining as ‘lewd or lascivious’ any “singing, speaking, dancing, acting, simulation, or pantomiming, where a performer exhibits a gender identity that is different from the performer’s biological sex through the use of clothing, makeup, or other physical markers, for the predominant purpose of appealing to a prurient interest.” An amended version of this bill when removed this section failed on March 2.
1080 is a bill which criminalizes the provision of certain kinds of gender-affirming care to transgender minors. It was signed by Gov. Kristi Noem on Feb. 13.
Bills of this sort are not unique to South Dakota. Focusing on healthcare alone, there have been over 100 bills introduced in states nationwide this year which seek to limit care to the transgender community.
Libby Skarin, campaigns director for the ACLU of North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming spoke with KELOLAND News on the spread of anti-trans bills.
“Since 2015, South Dakota has really been what I would call an early adopter of filing legislation that harms transgender people generally, and transgender kids in particular,” said Skarin.
According to Skarin, South Dakota was the first state in the nation to actually pass a bill targeting transgender youth, a bill which would have banned trans kids from bathrooms or locker rooms which correspond to their gender identities. This bill was vetoed by then-Governor Dennis Daugaard.
Since then, Skarin says bills attacking the transgender community have escalated rapidly.
“Around , both in South Dakota and in other parts of the country, we started to see more and more pieces of legislation filed in particular that attempt to attack transgender youth or take away their rights, or attempt to prevent them from getting medical care,” said Skarin.
Last year, Skarin said that there were around 200 bills attacking the LGBTQ+ community across the country, most of which focused on transgender people. This year, she says there are almost 400 filed. “A thing that started in very few states such as South Dakota has become an explosion across the country,” she said.
Skarin calls these bills bad, and says it is easy for them to catch on and spread. “Once a bad bill passes somewhere, it makes it so much easier for it to pass elsewhere,” she said.
In many cases, these bills are extremely similar state-to-state, often utilizing similar language, but tracking down the origin of the bills can be a difficult task. But how important is it to know where they come from?
“I personally think it’s important to know where they come from in order to understand the scope of what we’re looking at and to understand what groups and individuals in this country are really pushing this regressive and deeply harmful legislation,” said Skarin. “That being said, I don’t know how much it matters to the everyday citizen.”
Skarin pushed back on the idea that the origin of bills isn’t important, but added how important she thinks it is to focus on the harm done by the bills.
“A bad idea is a bad idea,” she said. “In some way it doesn’t matter where it comes from if we know it hurts people.”
One benefit of focusing on the origin of bills that Skarin points to is that the bills don’t necessarily come from the desire of the public as a whole. “This kind of effort is what I would call astroturfing,” she said. “We do have a few organizations that want to push these bills, and they have been very successful at making it look like there is some sort of mass resistance or mobilization against transgender lives.”
While Skarin does not believe that much of the anti-trans legislation circulating in the country comes from a genuine popular place, that does not mean it isn’t having an effect. We asked her, considering the increase in legislation we’ve seen, where does it go moving forward?
“I think that’s a very frightening question,” said Skarin. “Where does this go is the question that keeps me up at night — I’m genuinely concerned for transgender people in our community and transgender people in this country.”
As for where things go now, Skarin says there are a number of ways to approach that question, such as the impact the situation will have on transgender youth. “We have enough studies to know where this goes for transgender youth — that it increases suicidality, that it harms these kids, that it makes their lives worse,” she said.
From a legal perspective, Skarin holds up the history of abortion rights in the U.S. as perhaps the closest analog to what is currently happening in the battle for transgender rights.
“These are at their core, issues of bodily autonomy,” Skarin said. “[Roe v. Wade] was a tipping point, and then we spent the next 50+ years seeing state legislatures and the federal government slowly role back those rights to the point where they no longer exist in half this country.”
Skarin emphasized the importance of listening to the words of the people who push bills targeting the trans community. “Three years ago, talking to people about Roe v. Wade being overturned, it was ‘oh you’re being a little hysterical — you’re worrying a little too much, that’s never going to happen,’ — and now it has happened.”
This should not have come as a surprise, she said. “It is vitally important for us to take the people that introduce these bills, and the organizations that push these bills — it is important for us to take them at their word,” said Skarin. “They have been very clear — I’m sure you’ve seen the coverage lately about folks at big conferences talking about eradicating ‘transgenderism’. When people say things like that, we have to take them seriously.”
One major issue is a difference in ideas surrounding the actual existence of trans people. For Skarin, the focus should be on preventing harm. “We might disagree on this fundamental issue, but I think what we can and should agree on is to not do any harm — to me, that is the path forward.”