South Dakota's legislature threatens transgender youth

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South Dakota's state legislature building. Image: Jake DeGroot/Wikimedia Commons

The latest anti-transgender state law in the country, South Dakota's HB 1057, sailed through the state's house of representatives by a 2-1 margin on Wednesday.

The law criminalizes medical procedures intended to address gender dysphoria for people under the age of 16. "Gender dysphoria," according to the American Medical Association (AMA), is an "incongruence between anatomic sex and gender identity," when a person identified as a male or a female at birth is transgender, feeling that they belong somewhere else along the male-female spectrum. The AMA estimates that 0.6 percent of the population is transgender, and that this "has been recognized and documented in human populations worldwide since antiquity."

Failure to support transgender people, especially youth, can lead to a cascade of problems, from physical and mental health problems, self-harm and being victimized by intense discrimination and violent crime, including murder. Nevertheless, the Republican majority in the house, ignoring opposition from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, approved the bill. If it passes the Senate and gets signed into law by the governor, transgender youth in South Dakota will suffer.

"It is hugely disappointing that HB1057 overwhelmingly passed the South Dakota House," Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU's LGBT & HIV project, told us shortly after the vote. "This measure would criminalize life-saving care for trans youth and is a dangerous and misguided proposal that will cause serious harm and likely deaths across the state."

Quincy Parke, a transgender youth from South Dakota, addressed the house earlier in the week, saying, "Let me be clear: As someone who researched my own treatment options and someone who this bill would directly affect, what you're doing is not preventing harm. You are actively denying medical treatment to children who have such strong feelings of disconnect from their bodies that over half of them are or have been suicidal at some point in their lives."

Earlier in the month, HB 1057's sponsor, Republican house member Fred Deutsch from Florence, South Dakota, appeared on the radio program of evangelical Christian activist Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. "I've had family members killed in Auschwitz. I've seen the pictures of the bizarre medical experiments," Deutsch said. "I don’t want that to happen to our kids." Perkins, who has referred to being transgender as a "perversion," didn't think it perverse to compare Nazi experiments to medical treatments fully endorsed by the AMA.

"Just last week, a study came out documenting that the provision of this very care reduces suicidality in transgender young people," Strangio said before the vote, speaking on the Democracy Now! news hour. "Now we have lawmakers disregarding science, disregarding the urgent needs of the trans community, and saying, 'We do not care that you might die. We are going to make your healthcare, and indeed your life, a crime.'"

The struggles faced by those in the transgender community, as well as their contributions to our society, were a focus at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Yance Ford, the first openly trans director to be nominated for an Oscar, and Strangio are both subjects of a remarkable new documentary, Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen. The film received a rousing standing ovation at its premiere here, with its deep dive into Hollywood's long, complex and evolving depiction of trans lives.

Reacting to HB 1057's sponsor, Fred Deutsch, Yance Ford said on Democracy Now!, "I was appalled to listen to a legislator who was claiming, under the pretext of protecting vulnerable children, to have the right to insert himself and his beliefs into lifesaving medical treatment that is provided by professionals -- doctors, actual people with actual medical training, science behind them -- to provide children in South Dakota with gender-affirming treatment that children and their parents seek out." He went on, "It never ceases to amaze me how determined people are to erase trans people, even when they're children. I remember when I was 16, 15, 14, being fully aware of what I was dealing with. If I had had those choices, if my parents had had those choices when I was that age, I would have had a different childhood."

If the South Dakota senate passes the anti-trans bill passes, pressure will mount on Republican Governor Kristi Noem to veto it, to avoid a costly court challenge and the potential of a financially devastating boycott of her state.

"The fact that Disclosure is premiering while HB1057 is being debated is, for me, a reason to feel hope even in these despairing moments," Chase Strangio tweeted on Monday. "We will keep claiming our right to tell our own stories and control our own bodies."

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,300 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan, of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times bestseller. This column originally appeared on Democracy Now!

Image: Jake DeGroot/Wikimedia Commons

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