On Feb. 14, Kristi Noem, the reigning governor of South Dakota, signed HB 1080 into law. This discriminatory bill will now prevent healthcare professionals from administering gender affirmative care to minors, and trans youth across the state won’t have access to crucial, life preserving healthcare such as puberty blockers, gender affirming hormones, or surgeries related to transitioning. Unfortunately, while this sort of transphobic legislation is both jarring and appalling, it isn’t shocking. As a Native person, I can tell you that discrimination is far from new here in South Dakota.
HB 1080 continues the pattern of Governor Noem’s harmful and costly anti-trans agenda. Just last year, she approved SB 46, a billwhich barred young trans people from being able to participate on sports teams consistent with their gender identities. She even used her bias as a key platform plank to win reelection with South Dakota’s notoriously bigoted electorate. Also last year, South Dakota passed HB 1005, which prohibits transgender students from utilizing school restrooms which correspond with their gender identities.
Even with a wealth of evidence-based opposition, HB1080 flew through the South Dakota legislature. It passed 11-2 in the House Health and Human Services Committee (the two liberal committee members who opposed argued that the bill is unconstitutional). It then went on to pass 60-10 in the State House of Representatives and 30-4 in the State Senate.
At the South Dakota State Capitol in February 2022, S.D. Gov. Kristi Noem signs the bill banning transgender women and girls from playing in school sports which match their gender identity. (Stephen Groves/AP)
At the most recent hearing for HR 1080, a contingent of the bill’s proponents included out-of-state, far-right fearmongers. Anti-trans “activists” have (trigger warning) petitioned other state legislatures across the nation to pass transphobic laws, making the same religiously motivated, misinformation-packed speeches numerous times.
The testimonies of HB1080 opponents, on the other hand, largely came from transgender people and a family of trans children who reside in South Dakota. Also opposing the bill were several medical professionals and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of South Dakota. Samantha Chapman, the ACLU of South Dakota’s advocacy manager, called out the bill’s discrimination toward a marginalized group and its sponsors’ clearly transphobic agenda. And here’s what the ACLU of South Dakota had to say when the bill passed through the state’s House Health and Human Services Committee in January:
“The ACLU of South Dakota opposes HB 1080. Medical decisions should be made between patients (and their parents) and their doctors – not politicians. By blocking medical care supported by every major medical association, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, the legislature is compromising the health of trans youth in dangerous and potentially life-threatening ways.”
Photo: Denin Lawley/Unsplash
Similar bills — all clearly part of the far right’s culture war agenda across the nation — face corporate pushback and legal challenges in other states. It’s not unlikely that HB 1080 will lead to litigation from the ACLU or others, which could prove costly for the taxpayers of South Dakota. While that may be unfair to burden the taxpayers, Governor Noem must believe it’s worth it to advance her discriminatory agenda.
The unjust restrictions in all three bills further jeopardize the rights of the state’s trans community, and its deleterious effects could go beyond just limiting the rights of individuals. Yes, the bills are incredibly offensive to the transgender and nonbinary population in South Dakota, and that’s bad enough. But anti-trans legislation also puts children at risk.
Laws like HB1080 are also an act of erasure. Trans people have always been a part of South Dakota’s history, as trans identities pre-exist the state. Native nations have long acknowledged and regarded gender-nonconforming and trans individuals as important and highly esteemed members of our societies. These histories have been diminished as a result of rampant colonialism and genocide. Hetero-patriarchy is not Native. It’s a tool of the colony that is South Dakota. Our bodies are not the political playgrounds of governments; they are living representations of history — of our ancestors and their ways of being and knowing — and they must be protected and cared for.
Comprehensive education on the subject of trans and nonbinary identities does exist and is actively being ignored by South Dakota’s political leaders. The Trevor Project is just one example of the kind of resource that is underutilized and available to allies and all willing to educate themselves. There’s an abundance of well-informed, scholarly material from which to learn concerning all things pertaining to the LGBTQ2S+ community. I sincerely hope leaders in South Dakota and other conservative states will end their cynical culture war and start respecting the health, safety, and lives of all our young ones. If that's ever to happen, we must stand strong and united.