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South Dakota Republicans Are Fighting To Pass Anti-Transgender Legislation

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In his first week in office, President Biden signed two executive orders expanding the rights of transgender people. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers in some state legislatures have introduced bills that could do the opposite, including a bill that has passed in the state House of Representatives in South Dakota. Lee Strubinger of South Dakota Public Broadcasting has more.

LEE STRUBINGER, BYLINE: In some states, bills would forbid the use of hormone blockers in young people. In others, some Republican lawmakers are trying to prevent transgender youth from playing on a sports team or using the locker room associated with their gender identity. In South Dakota, a different bill would refuse transgender people the right to change their sex designation on their birth certificate. It's passed in the House and is now before the Senate.

SEYMOUR OTTERMAN: We are just trying to, like, get by in a society that puts us down at every opportunity.

STRUBINGER: Seymour Otterman from Sioux Falls drove three hours to testify against the proposal.

OTTERMAN: These bills just add on to the discrimination that we already face.

STRUBINGER: The controversial bill was defeated in the Republican-majority committee. But hours later, the prime sponsor, Republican Representative Fred Deutsch, used a legislative maneuver to bring his bill to the House floor.

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FRED DEUTSCH: Many members have expressed to me the desire to have debate on it, and it's an important social issue of our time.

STRUBINGER: The next day, the House of Representatives passed the bill. Deutsch says this bill is designed to clarify a legal issue in the South Dakota courts. He says there have been inconsistent rulings on whether a person can change the sex marker on their birth certificate.

DEUTSCH: It's not a hate bill. I approach this whole process with great humility.

STRUBINGER: Records from the state's judicial system show that since 2015, about a dozen South Dakotans have sought to change the sex designation on their birth certificate. Of those, two were denied. Deutsch wants to make the law clear and consistent - that transgender people cannot change their birth certificate in order to maintain the integrity of vital records.

DEUTSCH: Sex develops very early, when the gametes meet in the embryological process, and it's unchangeable. Sex cannot be changed.

ANNE DILENSCHNEIDER: Just on a basis of confusion of terms, this bill is incredibly flawed.

STRUBINGER: Anne Dilenschneider of Sioux Falls, S.D., is a counselor who has worked with transgender youth and adults since 1992.

DILENSCHNEIDER: There's not a clear understanding in the legislature about how sex and gender are related and what we know and when we know.

STRUBINGER: The bill defines sex as the biological and physiological characteristics genetically determined at conception and generally recognizable at birth. Dilenschneider says fetal sex and gender development is more complex than that and can't always be seen at birth.

DILENSCHNEIDER: So just like with a child who's intersex, who we cannot tell on the outside, we actually are presuming sex on everybody who's born. And we need to wait to see.

STRUBINGER: The ACLU of South Dakota says it will sue the state if the bill becomes law. It says the bill is discriminatory and violates the Equal Protection Clause and the First Amendment. It's not clear what kind of support the bill will get in the Senate. But just today, House Republicans introduced one more bill that would limit high school girls' sports teams to those born female.

For NPR News, I'm Lee Strubinger in Pierre, S.D. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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