Advocates gathered at the South Dakota state capitol last week to urge a veto on HB 1008, a bill to restrict transgender students’ access to school bathrooms and locker rooms. (Jay Pickthorn /The Argus Leader via AP)

 

Public school officials and activists nationwide have their eye on South Dakota, where Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) will decide Tuesday whether to sign or veto a bill that would be the first in the nation to restrict transgender students’ access to school restrooms and locker rooms.

If Daugaard does not act by midnight, the bill — which requires that students use the public school restroom that corresponds with their biological sex instead of their gender identity — will automatically become law.

And if it does become law, the South Dakota law will be in direct conflict with federal civil rights policy, and schools will face the possibility of losing millions of dollars in federal funding.

Proponents of the legislation, including its sponsor, state Rep. Fred Deutsch (R), say that it is necessary in order to protect the privacy of all children in public schools.

“It’s about all the children that we have to protect from the opposite biologic sex when they’re young and vulnerable and impressionable,” Deutsch told The Washington Post last week.

The ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBT-rights activists have been waging a furious campaign against the South Dakota bill, which they say is a bigoted effort to target some of the country’s most vulnerable children.

“Transgender students like me are just looking for a chance to access the same things that everyone else does — an education, a job, a safe place to pee,” Thomas Lewis, an 18-year-old transgender South Dakotan, wrote in an opinion piece published in The Post. “Gov. Dennis Daugaard, please stand up for me and all of the people of South Dakota you represent. The country is watching, and history will show that you did the right thing if you veto this bad bill.”

The Obama administration has said that restricting transgender students’ access to bathrooms amounts to gender discrimination that is illegal under the federal civil rights law known as Title IX.

The administration’s position, cheered by transgender students and their advocates, has sparked a mounting backlash from parents, activists and lawmakers who call it an assault on traditional values and children’s privacy.

Besides South Dakota, 13 other states are considering legislation that would restrict transgender students’ bathroom access.

Lawmakers in Tennessee were scheduled to hold a hearing Tuesday on a bill that would require students to use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex listed on their birth certificate. Tennessee is the only state in the nation with a law banning people from changing the sex listed on their birth certificate, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.