Metro Weekly

South Dakota Senate kills bill to ban medical treatments for transgender youth

HRC calls on other states with similar anti-transgender bills to follow South Dakota's lead in rejecting them

transgender, south dakota
Protesters demonstrate against an anti-transgender bill outside the South Dakota Capitol – Photo: Greg Latza/ACLU

A South Dakota Senate committee killed a bill that would have prohibited doctors from providing gender-affirming medical treatments to transgender youth by threatening them with fines or jail time.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 5-2 to reject the bill, sponsored by Rep. Fred Deutsch (R-Florence), which sought to restrict children under 16 from accessing hormones or puberty blockers under the guise of “protecting” transgender or gender-nonconforming children, lest they grow to regret their decision to transition when they are older.

Prior to its consideration, Deutsch asked that the bill be amended to allow youths who underwent gender confirmation surgery or received gender-affirming treatment to sue their doctors if they later regretted the decision. 

Sen. Wayne Steinhauer (R-Hartford) called it a “gut-wrenching” issue, but believed it was better to leave parents in charge of their children’s health care decisions. 

But Sen. Lance Russell (R-Hot Springs) expressed support for allowing families to sue doctors who encourage patients to pursue gender-affirming treatments, reports the Argus Leader.

LGBTQ advocates and Democrats argued that Deutsch’s bill would actually harm transgender youth by preventing them from receiving medically necessary treatment for their gender dysphoria.

They cited studies showing that transgender children who have access to puberty blockers have a lower incidence of mental health problems as they age.

Opponents of the bill demonstrated outside of the Capitol prior to the committee meeting, carrying signs to protest several anti-LGBTQ measures that have been introduced this session.

Kim Parke, the mother of a transgender child, told the committee during testimony that lawmakers should not be interfering with parental rights.

“With all due respect, my child’s health care is not your decision to make,” she said.

The bill was also opposed by leading medical authorities, including the Endocrine Society, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, and the South Dakota State Medical Association, all of which noted that gender confirmation surgery is not recommended for minors, but argued that doctors should be able to prescribe puberty blockers or hormones if that is what is in a child’s best interest.

Keith Hansen, an endocrinologist with Sanford Health in South Dakota, noted that Sanford Health treated fewer than 20 children in the state who were diagnosed with gender dysphoria last year.

He also said that children who undergo transition-related treatments receive psychiatric counseling before and during the treatments, reports the Associated Press.

Protesters demonstrate outside the South Dakota Capitol – Photo: Greg Latza/ACLU

After his bill’s defeat, Deutsch — who has maintained his intent is to protect children from harm — cast blame on Gov. Kristin Noem, accusing her of working “behind the scenes” to oppose the bill. Noem had previously questioned whether lawmakers should be focused on transgender health care at the expense of other, more pressing issues.

But a spokeswoman for Noem pushed back against that accusation noting that the governor never took a formal position on the legislation.

Deutsch previously sponsored a measure in 2016 that would have forced transgender students to use only restrooms that match their assigned sex at birth. That bill was eventually vetoed by then-Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R).

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, which had opposed the bill, celebrated its defeat, arguing that it would have been unconstitutional to single out transgender youth and categorically ban them from receiving medically necessary treatments.

“Though supporters claimed House Bill 1057 was aimed at protecting vulnerable youth, it was clearly fueled by a fear and misunderstanding of transgender South Dakotans,” Libby Skarin, the policy director for the ACLU of South Dakota, said in a statement. “It’s time we stop these attacks and the very real harm they cause to transgender youth across our state. Let this be a signal to the South Dakota Legislature that discrimination against a marginalized group is a distraction from the needs of the state and hurts us all.”

Demonstrators protest South Dakota’s anti-transgender health care bill – Photo: Greg Latza/ACLU

Sam Brinton, the head of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, thanked lawmakers for defeating the bill, calling its defeat a “resounding victory for trans youth.”

“We are hopeful that any state considering similar bills will join South Dakota in setting aside these attacks on trans youth to focus on real priorities to advance the health and wellbeing of all,” Brinton said. “This will save lives.”  

Several other states, including Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee, have introduced similar legislation to prevent transgender children from receiving gender-affirming treatments.

Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, praised the bill’s defeat and called on other states to follow South Dakota’s lead.

“Across South Dakota, transgender and non-binary youth and their families were able to stand up, make their voices heard and make a difference,” David said in a statement. “It’s heartening to see how strongly South Dakotans stood against HB 1057 and that elected officials in the state are standing up against the misinformation and anti-transgender attacks that came from the bill’s proponents.

“Now, as similar bills pop up in other states across the country, we’re hopeful that other states’ lawmakers will follow South Dakota’s lead in recognizing that these bills are unnecessary, harmful and have no place in our state legislatures.”

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