South Dakota Governor Vetoes Bathroom Bill After Meeting Actual Trans People

A round of applause for Gov. Daugaard!

National Governor’s Association

On Tuesday, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed legislation that would have barred trans students from using the school bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. The bill, which had sailed through the Republican legislature, would have threatened about $195 million in federal education funding for the state, since Title IX forbids discrimination against trans students. It also would likely have cost the state millions in legal costs, since the bill is almost certainly unconstitutional.

Daugaard had previously implied that he would sign the bathroom bill into law. But when he let slip that he had never knowingly met a trans person, LGBTQ advocates pounced, requesting that Daugaard meet with a group of trans students before taking action on the legislation. The meeting apparently went quite well: Afterward, Daugaard said the interaction “put a human face” on the impact of the bill and “helped me see things through their eyes a little better and see more of their perspective.” One student, who had previously interacted with Daugaard when he worked at the Children’s Home Society for foster children, told the Argus Leader that “you could tell that he’s gone out of his way to get educated about transgender folks. He has the same strong heart that I was aware of when I was younger.”

In vetoing the bill, Daugaard complained that it “does not address any pressing issue concerning the school districts of South Dakota. As policymakers in South Dakota, we often recite that the best government is the government closest to the people.” He added:

Local school districts can, and have, made necessary restroom and locker room accommodations that serve the best interests of all students, regardless of biological sex or gender identity. This bill seeks to impose statewide standards on ‘every restroom, locker room, and shower room located in a public elementary or secondary school.’ It removes the ability of local school districts to determine the most appropriate accommodations for their individual students and replaces that flexibility with a state mandate.

Daugaard’s veto comes as a huge relief to LGBTQ advocates, who feared that the South Dakota bill might open the floodgates to similar legislation in other states. South Dakota would have been the first state to impose anti-trans bathroom rules on every school. The bill’s failure sends a strong message that this kind of legislation is simply unacceptable—even in a dark red state.