At a press conference yesterday in Pierre, Governor Dennis Daugaard said he’s working through all of the committee testimony and floor debate that sent House Bill 1008, the paranoid potty bill, to his desk. He notes that listening to testimony takes more time than reading, because when a speaker pauses, listeners have to wait right along with the recording. I agree—plodding through audio or video clips is much less efficient than working with skimmable, searchable, less bandwidth-consuming text—so about about a budget line for software-generated, human-reviewed transcripts of every Legislative meeting?
Also slowing down Governor Daugaard’s review of HB 1008 is his wife Linda and their darn friends from back home:
I’m sorry to say that my wife has invited some friends over for the weekend from our hometown. This is something we scheduled couple months ago, not realizing I’d have to be doing this sort of thing, too. I have until Tuesday, and I’ll get it done… by Tuesday [Governor Dennis Daugaard, press conference, Pierre, SD, 2016.02.25].
It’s healthy for the Governor to make time to relax with friends. I’m just a little puzzled by that middle line: This is something we scheduled a couple months ago, not realizing I’d have to be doing this sort of thing, too. Really? Back in December, the First Lady asks the Governor if they’ll be busy on February 27. The Governor looks at the calendar, sees that’s seven weeks into Session during which he plans to cajole his Republican majority into supporting Medicaid expansion and a tax increase to raise teacher pay, and he thinks, “Sure, set aside the weekend. There won’t be much going on.”
I’d think February is the same for the South Dakota Governor as it is for South Dakota debate coaches: with National Qualifiers happening and State Debate the first weekend of March, they just don’t schedule anything else.
The Governor has made time to meet with transgender students who would be affected (impacted, discriminated against, stigmatized) by HB 1008. He should note that for every transgender student willing to openly meet with him, there are many others who fear bullying and thus will not come forward.
Austin Schoenfelder understands that hesitance to come forward. Schoenfelder is a Minnesota native who moved here for school and does theater in Sioux Falls. Schoenfelder says that, beyond the difficulty of dealing with bullying from people who hate, transgender people struggle perhaps more in dealing with the people they love:
I have heard about relationships being ruined by the inability to comprehend that a loved one is transgender. I really do understand that the revelation can be a shock and can take some time and thought to get used to. I get that. It’s a huge change and some people feel like they’ve lost someone as they gain this new individual. But, though I can empathize with those feelings, I don’t believe that the gender of someone that you love and care for should be that vital in your relationship. Those feelings just can’t compare to the daily pain a transgender person, still “in the closet”, must endure. The anxiety, the self doubt and the fear are all constant companions and we are living day to day as our self-esteems absorb blow after blow. This is not a “choice” anyone makes for themselves. Who would choose to live a life in hiding? The only choice we have is whether or not we live as our authentic selves. When we take that step into the light, we hope that our families will continue to love us unconditionally, even in uncharted territory [Austin Schoenfelder, “Miles from Me: A South Dakota Artist’s Transition and HB 1008,” The Falls Theatre Blog, 2016.02.25].
Schoenfelder has found kindness, empathy, and safety in our conservative state. House Bill 1008 has shaken his sense of safety in South Dakota:
These thoughts came crashing to Earth when I read about House Bill 1008. I am filled with fear for the youth of South Dakota affected by this. I had come to believe that our state had made strides toward acceptance of the LGBT+ community, but this bill feels like a kick in the stomach. The students targeted by it endure a great deal of stress every day, whether they are “out” or not. They’re struggling with their identities, with acceptance, with bullies, and with thoughts about how their revelation might affect their loved ones. It’s a lot for a young person to handle. I may not have been exploring my gender identity in high school, but if this much hate and stigma had been surrounding me at that age, I would have been terrified. I would have felt unsafe in an institution meant to educate and protect me. Some of these students can’t feel safe in their own homes if they out themselves as trans; why push to make another place unwelcoming for them? Now South Dakota, instead of helping its youth become the best it can be, has made it acceptable to bully those that identify as LGBT+ [Schoenfelder, 2016.02.25].
Transgender South Dakotans like to have their friends over on the weekend, too. They don’t have to schedule those get-togethers around veto decisions and National Governors Association meetings. They just have to wonder if their friends will even come over, or if they’ll stick around when they hear that the gal they thought they’ve known since grade school now wears guy clothes and uses a guy name. They have to wonder if their friends will be persuaded by the rhetoric of insensitive ideologues who use their public position to brand transgender people as twisted nutjobs.
Having friends over for the weekend is a good thing, Governor Daugaard. As you and the First Lady entertain in the Governor’s mansion this weekend, think about how nice it is to get away from public scrutiny and be yourself with your friends. Then think about the cruel light that the language and intent of House Bill 1008 casts on our transgender neighbors, fomenting fear and stereotypes that further complicate the already great challenges transgender people face in being themselves with their friends.
Schoenfelder and others like him have enough problems; don’t let the Legislature create more. Veto HB 1008.
Related Reading: Slide this across the coffee table to your friends: Time says South Dakota’s potty bill is “out of step with science.”
The bill “assumes that there’s a clear-cut division between male and female,” says Elizabeth Reis, a professor of gender and bioethics at Macaulay Honors College, CUNY. “And that if we only dig hard enough we could truly distinguish between the boys and the girls. Throughout American history people have been trying to make these distinctions, and the reason why it doesn’t work is because those distinctions aren’t there. We don’t have any bright line.” Reis points to the sports world as an example, where officials have repeatedly drawn and then erased lines determining who is allowed to compete as a man or woman in the Olympics [Katy Steinmetz, “Gender Is Not Just Chromosomes and Genitals,” Time, 2016.02.23].