S. Dakota lawmakers push bill to bar transgender youth care
PIERRE, SD (AP) — A state House committee voted Tuesday to introduce a bill that would ban gender-affirming childcare for transgender youth in South Dakota.
Proponents argued that a law banning teens from access to puberty blockers, hormones and surgery would protect teens from irreversible harm, while opponents argued it only prevents them from becoming their authentic selves.
Republican Rep. Bethany Soye’s bill passed Tuesday morning by a House Committee on Health and Human Services with a dominant Republican vote. Despite testimony from health care providers, lawyers and transgender youth, the bill will go to a vote in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. Soye said she has Gov. Kristi Noem’s support for the law, which targets transgender people under the age of 18.
After nearly two hours of discussion, all eight Republicans on the committee voted in favor of the bill, while the only two Democrats opposed, putting South Dakota on the list of at least 18 other states Push legislation to block health care for transgender youth this year.
The Republican governor of Utah signed a ban gender-affirming grooming and similar bans were enacted in Arkansas and Alabama last week, but they are being challenged in court.
Witnesses supporting the bill spoke from personal experience, either as patients who regretted their decision to have surgery as young adults with gender dysphoria, or as doctors who argued that “normal” puberty was a “cure” for gender dysphoria.
Don Oliver, a retired Rapid City pediatrician, said he disagrees with guidance from leading medical associations — like the American Medical Association — that support gender-affirming care as medically necessary.
“We as a profession have lost our way, lost our bearings, lost our anchor,” Oliver said.
Opponents have criticized the bill for pushing patients and doctors into healthcare and violating civil rights.
“Gender-affirming care is part of comprehensive primary care,” said Daniel Heinemann, chief officer of Sanford Health and chair of the American Academy of Family Physicians in South Dakota. “GPs are deeply concerned by the increasing trend in recent legislative efforts to criminalize the care of certain patients in hospital.”
Heinemann said gender diversity is a normal part of human existence.
Samantha Chapman, a member of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, said, “It is impossible to discriminate against a person because they are transgender without discriminating against that person because of their gender.”
Soye submitted this bill as approval. She compared a child’s inability to consent to a gender confirmation procedure to their inability to consent to buying cigarettes, drinking alcohol, or serving in the military. She also questioned the health professions, saying, “The fact is, the medical community can get things wrong.”
Opponents of the bill noted that a young person’s decision-making flows heavily into the treatment confirmation process.
dr Anne Dilenschneider, a psychiatric counselor at New Idea Counseling, said gender dysphoria takes months to diagnose. The process considers a child’s social skills, emotional skills, medical history, and disabilities before gender is addressed, and this includes reports from teachers and other certified adults close to the patient.
“This experience of gender dysphoria or gender incongruity needs to be labeled and sustained over time, and that means years. That wasn’t a kid who was on TikTok and said, ‘Hi, I’m trans,'” Dilenschneider said.
She added that the bill’s misinformed language, such as “chemical castration,” upset her the most.
Other opponents included 16-year-old Elliot Morehead from Sioux Falls, who skipped his physics test to testify at the Capitol.
“I’m transgender and I’m proud,” Morehead said.
Morehead told the committee it took six months of therapy to get a referral just to discuss hormone therapy and other confirmatory treatments. They said telling kids to grow out of gender dysphoria is like telling someone struggling with depression to “just be happy.”
Democratic MPs Kameron Nelson and Erin Healy opposed the gender discrimination bill. They warned fellow voters that the bill would cost the state and taxpayers millions of dollars spent on litigation with a full judgment.
Morehead was also disappointed by the committee’s decision but said they would remain optimistic. Although they have discussed leaving the state to seek the health care available to them, they want to continue the fight.
“If we go, the next generation will be left behind,” Morehead said. “That’s why I’m staying here and fighting on.”