The ability to use the public bathroom that corresponds with one's gender identity seems like a pretty basic right. On Tuesday, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard affirmed this when he vetoed a bill that would legally prohibit transgender students from doing just that — a bill the state Senate voted to pass in February.
The bill specifically stipulated that transgender students could not use bathrooms, locker rooms or shower facilities that do not correspond with their biological sex, Argus Leader reported in February. Should transgender students reject this, they could request the use of separate facilities, according to the same report.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Brock Greenfield (R-Clark), defended the legislation on the Senate floor in February by arguing that "youths commingling in bathrooms and locker rooms" and subsequent exposure to "anatomy" different than their own was questionable.
But others defended transgender South Dakotans, such as Sen. Bernie Hunhoff (D-Yankton), who argued the discriminatory legislation could dissuade tourism and other business. Sen. Troy Heinert, (D-Mission) added that the decision could serve as a gateway to further discrimination.
"When does the discrimination stop?" Heinert asked at the time. "We're going to tread down a very serious path ... this is exactly how it starts."
Although Daugaard stated the bill seemed like a "good idea" in February, he subsequently met with transgender students and parents and ultimately "saw things through their eyes" according to South Dakota Public Broadcasting Radio.
While transgender individuals in South Dakota have emerged victorious, the rights of individuals in other states still remain in jeopardy. In January, Virginia Republican Del. Mark Cole introduced House Bill 663, which would require individuals to use the public bathroom corresponding to their "anatomical sex," a bill similar to those introduced in Florida, Arizona, Texas and Kentucky.
Lawmakers in these states would do well not only to follow Daugaard's precedent of compassion, but also to examine the facts about bathroom bills — namely, that they don't protect anyone and only hurt transgender individuals. While there are zero reported cases of trans individuals attacking others in bathrooms, 53% of trans individuals reported experiencing harassment in public accommodations. Also, according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 26% of respondents reported being physically assaulted in "educational settings, at work, in interactions with police and with family members, at homeless shelters, accessing public accommodations, and in jails and prisons."
It's a situation that some in the transgender community believe calls not just for active resistance to such bills, but an alternative public bathroom system altogether. As transgender writer and performer Ivan Coyote noted in a recent TED talk, bathroom bills "exist only to foster fear and promote transphobia." Gender neutral bathrooms, however, are "a safe and private place to escape that world, if only for just a minute," and implementing them could be the best possible solution.
"This we can do," Coyote concluded. "So let's just do it."