South Dakota representatives approved a bill Tuesday that would prohibit public school instruction about gender dysphoria through seventh grade.
The House voted 39-30 to send the measure to the state Senate. Republican Rep. Tom Pischke, the sponsor, said the intent of the measure is to make sure that public schools are not "teaching and confusing our young children to be more susceptible to this dysphoria."
People with gender dysphoria suffer discomfort or distress due to the discrepancy between their gender identity and gender at birth. Democratic Rep. Kelly Sullivan said legislation that targets transgender kids amounts to discrimination.
"This bill would be discriminatory," Sullivan said. "I think we are better than this as lawmakers. I know that South Dakota is better than this. We have to stop searching for a solution to a problem that does not exist."
Libby Skarin, policy director at the ACLU of South Dakota, said in a statement that the measure is fueled by "fear and misunderstanding of transgender youth in our state." The measure reinforces the false notion that transgender students aren't "entitled to the same dignity and respect as all students," Skarin said.
The measure originally sought to ban teaching about gender identity or expression, but was changed in a House panel last week. A similar proposal was scuttled last year.
Republican Rep. Fred Deutsch, a bill supporter who proposed an unsuccessful measure in 2016 to restrict the bathrooms transgender students could use, said children who have psychological conditions, including gender dysphoria, need compassion and respect. But he said it's vital that "we protect our children that we're sending to public schools from the influences of other children that are suffering with different disorders."
"I don't want my grandchildren going to kindergarten and being confused if they're a boy or a girl," he said. "Treat our children with respect, all of them, but let's not subject them to notions of fancy."
Republican Rep. Taffy Howard said supporters want educators to do their jobs: teach reading, writing and arithmetic.
South Dakota this year has introduced four "anti-trans" bills, more than any other state, said Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign. Oakley said it's not really clear what the gender dysphoria bill would do, "other than truly stigmatize" transgender children and imply that they can be taught to be transgender.
"(The bill), in specifically calling out gender dysphoria, is unique among the laws that limit instruction on LGBTQ issues and is unlike anything else that we've seen introduced this year or even last," Oakley said.
A Senate panel in January voted down a bill that would have voided an activities association policy allowing transgender students request to participate on the athletic team that matches their gender identity. A similar measure is awaiting a hearing in the House.
A House committee last week rejected a measure that said a parent can refuse consent to health care treatments for a minor child if the parent thought it would induce, confirm or promote the child's belief that their gender identity is different than their sex at birth.