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South Dakota lawmakers are waging a relentless attack on the rights and safety of transgender young people. Last week, the state House of Representatives passed a bill that would make it a felony for medical professionals to provide gender-affirming care to transgender youth. This absurd, dangerous idea could have disastrous effects. If the bill goes into effect, doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals will have to choose between following the detailed guidelines required for caring for transgender patients – such as providing medically indicated hormone blockers and hormone therapy — or facing up to ten years in prison. It also threatens to compromise the health of young trans people by interfering with their relationship with their doctors.
Major medical groups like the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recognize the necessity of transition-related care for many transgender people. For some transgender people, the difference between the gender they are thought to be at birth and the gender they know themselves to be can lead to serious emotional distress that affects their health if not addressed. And yet, stigma and misinformation about transgender people’s health care can make it difficult for them to access the care they need.
Ironically named the “Vulnerable Child Protection Act,” this new bill erects yet another barrier (more like a brick wall) to safe, affirming, and necessary care, leaving trans youth even more vulnerable to emotional distress including depression and suicidal thoughts. Affirming a young person’s gender can save lives. By undermining medically recommended protocols, this bill risks harming transgender youth in catastrophic ways.
Over the past five years, South Dakota has introduced 13 discriminatory bills that targeted transgender people, including:
Thankfully, most of these bills have been defeated. But it’s clear that the South Dakota legislature is on a mission to codify discrimination against transgender youth. Under the guise of “protecting children,” these bills undermine peoples’ ability to make decisions about their bodies and they contribute to anti-trans sentiments in the community. This makes it especially hard for young people to experience joy, to learn in a safe environment, to get the health care they need, and to survive into adulthood.
And let’s not forget, this is the same South Dakota that imposes unconstitutional and medically unnecessary abortion restrictions, tried to block ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, and, unlike most states, offers LGBTQ people no protection against discrimination in the workplace. In fact, in 2016, the state House of Representatives introduced a bill to allow businesses to refuse services or facilities to LGBTQ people based on the owner’s religious beliefs.
Families everywhere deserve to live in a safe, healthy environment free from discrimination. But leaders in South Dakota are making this increasingly difficult. If lawmakers truly care about protecting vulnerable people, it’s time they stop these attacks and focus on the issues that matter to the people of South Dakota.