Transgender student bathroom plan may go to voters in 2018

Terri Bruce, left, a transgender man who opposed a bill that South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed that would have limited bathroom use, walks toward the South Dakota state Capitol in Pierre. AP Photo, James Nord, File.

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A ballot measure that would require transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with their sex at birth may go before voters in 2018, Attorney General Marty Jackley said Tuesday.

Jackley announced that he has filed an explanation of the measure with the secretary of state's office. If supporters gather 13,871 signatures from registered voters by November 2017, it would be placed on the ballot for the 2018 election.

The proposal revives a heated fight from the 2016 legislative session over a similar bill, which Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard eventually vetoed. The state House failed to override the rejection in March.

Ballot measure sponsor Jack Heyd of Box Elder said he wants to protect children and ensure that students have privacy. He fears people going into restrooms for "nefarious" reasons, said Heyd, a political novice who is chairman of the Committee to Ensure Student Privacy.

Heyd said he's contacted people across the state for what will be a grass-roots effort to collect signatures. Ten measures made it onto the ballot for the 2016 election.

"I can't think of a better opportunity for the people to have a vote on something as important as this," said retiring Rep. Fred Deutsch, a Republican who sponsored the bill in 2016.

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.

The language mirrors the 2016 bill, which Daugaard said didn't address "any pressing issue" and that such decisions were best left to local schools.

The regulations would set up transgender students to get bullied, said Terri Bruce, a 53-year-old transgender man who fought against the bill earlier this year.

"I would love to speak to people that have never met a transgender person or don't understand what the issues are that would like to hear what the other side of this looks like," Bruce said. "I just ask that people give my community a fair shot at giving a different perspective."

American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota executive director Heather Smith said in a statement that putting the rights of transgender children up for a popular vote is another "shameful attempt" to put discrimination into state law. The organization is prepared to fight back against such proposals, she said.

Such a bill is likely also to be introduced again during the 2017 session that begins in January. If lawmakers are successful in passing it, Heyd said his work would likely be finished.

"If they can't get the job done, then I'll be ready," Heyd said.


Copyright 2016 The Gayly - 11/22/2016 @ 4:51 p.m.