Bill proposes regulating transgender bathroom use

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SIOUX FALLS - The start of the 2016 legislative session is only a few months away, but one proposed bill is already stirring up controversy.

A South Dakota state representative proposes the student protection act.

It's a bill to regulate which door transgender students should chose when going to the restroom.

Some believe transgender students should be able to use the bathroom that matches the sex with which they identify.

The bill as currently written states any student who identifies as a gender different from their biologic sex, would be required to submit a written request to a school administrator that they be provided with the best available accommodations.

Schools would have to provide those accommodations, except those facilities could not include the use of restrooms, locker rooms, or shower rooms that are designated for students of the opposite biologic sex.

The Center of Equality head of transgender services Kendra Heathscott said "we just need to stop making it about the individual's bodies. Let's make it about their hearts. Let's make it about their experience, and just realize that everybody just goes into the bathroom to use the bathroom."

South Dakota State Representative Fred Deutsch said "the real issue to me has to do with the privacy of our children, that in their most intimate situations, going to the bathroom, changing their clothes, or showering with other students, we provide them privacy."

At the moment, the Student Protection Act is at the draft stage. Deutsch says the wording of it may change.

"The way I present myself, going into a men's bathroom, that would be more of an unsafe situation for me, than anything. Me going into a women's bathroom, that's going to be more safe for me. I'm going to feel more comfortable," Heathscott said.

Heathscott wants state legislators to take a break on a bill that would regulate which restroom transgender students could use.

"If you're not going to let these children express themselves the way they want to, and let them live authentically the way they want to, and let them have the exact same experience that every other student has, the possibility of that suicide rate rising for those individuals can happen," Heathscott said.

Deutsch, the sponsor of the proposed Student Protection Act, believes the bill is in a child's best interest.

"I don't really care if boys play on girl's teams or girls play on boy's teams," Deutsch said.

"I don't want my daughters, as teenagers, to go into a shower room, and have to be exposed to a student with male anatomy, who's showering right next to them," Deutsch added.

ACLU South Dakota executive director Heather Smith believes regulating which restroom a transgender student chooses could stigmatize them.

"Excluding people from a restroom, or any facility that conforms with their gender identity, or how they express their gender, is really stigmatizing. It isolates them. It makes them feel like they can't be themselves, they can't attend facilities just like any other person would," Smith said.

If the bill became law in South Dakota, a U.S. Department of Education statute against sexual discrimination could cost schools lawsuits, or the loss of federal funding.

Schools would be subject to sex discrimination complaints, and so this bill is really concerning because what we have is a legislature contemplating passing a bill that would subject schools to lawsuits or administrative complaints with the department of education," Smith said.

"Education funding is a hot topic in South Dakota. If a bill like this is proposed, and eventually passed, I'd like to think that the legislature would be considering alternative ways of funding their schools," Smith added.

No matter which side of the issue people stand, most agree on the need to continue the conversation.

"The issue of providing safe and supportive environments for transgender students needs to be discussed. I don't think it needs to be discussed in the form of bathrooms and facilities use," Smith said.

Even if there was one transgender person, one transgender youth, or 50 transgender youth, it still comes to play that they should be able to participate in the sport they identify with, they should be able to use the bathroom they identify with, numbers don't matter about that," Heathscott said.

"I do want to reach out to the transgender community. I do want to get their input," Deutsch said.