On February 12, the South Dakota House passed HB 1108, a bill which, if enacted as law, would forbid the state’s kindergarten-through-7th grade schools from discussing gender expression, dysphoria, transition, or anything other than the traditional, rigid gender binary. It is the latest in a series of bills aimed at the transgender and nonbinary communities, and its passage through the House demonstrates that the transphobic trend in South Dakota’s state government remains strong, even in light of previous defeats. The bill, sponsored by Representatives Pischke, Frye-Mueller, Gosch, Greenfield, LIvermont, Marty, and Randolph, as well as State Senators Jensen, Blare, and DiSanto, now passes to the state Senate for consideration. If passed there, it will proceed to the desk of Republican governor Kristi Noem.
The rationale behind the bill is based on the discredited, pseudo-scientific notion of “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” a transphobic myth peddled primarily by bigoted parents who are unwilling to accept their children’s transness, as well as politically-motivated TERFs and religious extremists. ROGD proponents claim that being trans or nonbinary is seen as “trendy,” and that children are claiming to be trans or nonbinary in order to fit in. Representative Tom Pischke, the bill’s primary sponsor, had this to say: “I’d submit to you this bill actually helps to save children from this dysphoria. This bill focuses on not instructing to this disease.” It should go without saying that no credible evidence of such a trend has ever been presented, as all accounts of it come from cisgender parents, rather than from the children themselves. It should also be remembered that the trans and nonbinary communities remain subject to extensive social ostracism, exacerbated by the complete and deliberate failure of the federal government to enforce non-discrimination law on our behalf, making claims that transness is “trendy” all the more obviously ludicrous.
It should furthermore be noted that not a single one of the legislators who spoke up in support of this bill could identify a single instance of either themselves or their colleagues teaching students about gender expression, identity, etc. This puts the lie to any claim that the measure is intended to “protect” students from any kind of existing curriculum, as claimed by people such as Rep. Pischke. This bill, like so many other policies, is intended to keep the general public as ignorant as possible of the existence and experiences of trans people, to force the rigid gender binary on children, at least some of whom will turn out to be trans or nonbinary themselves, and to further ostracize and oppress transgender and nonbinary people.
Earlier attempts by the South Dakota legislature to pass anti-trans legislation have failed, most recently after the previous governor vetoed one such bill aimed at preventing transgender people from using facilities corresponding to their gender identity. However, no such guarantee exists that Governor Noem will follow suit, if the bill should reach her desk. If passed, HB 1108 would be yet another shameful example of bigoted, oppressive policy enacted by American far-right against marginalized people.
There has been a considerable increase in right-wing efforts to oppress trans and nonbinary people in recent years, partially spearheaded by the Trump administration.
In addition to the wide array of oppressive, bigoted state laws, policies, and bills such as HB 1108, the federal government has, unfortunately, joined in the effort to drive transgender and nonbinary people out of society. From the Dept. of Justice refusing to enforce anti-discrimination law, to the attempt to fire all 14,000+ transgender employees of the Dept. of Defense, to the as-yet uncertain proposal to change federal policy language to write trans and nonbinary people out of existence, this administration has shown itself to be a clear foe of our communities. It has, regrettably, been aided in these efforts by transphobic organizations and individuals claiming to represent the Left. These trans-exclusive “radical” people and groups are busily sticking a knife into our backs, even as the religious fanatics and fascists of the right plunge another into our chests. Behind all these efforts, though, is always the hand of capitalism, which benefits from keeping the working class divided against itself, and ignorant of its common class interests.
In situations such as this, it can be tempting to distrust all cisgender people, and to retreat into insular communities consisting only of ourselves. I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t felt the same. But if we are to be successful in our struggle for recognition and equal rights, and more broadly in our effort to overthrow the systems that have enabled our oppression, we will need allies, and those allies must include cisgender people. As a part of a revolutionary, working class movement, we will be in a much stronger position to enact the changes we so desperately need. At the same time, though, we must always remain at the head of our own movement. We must remember that it is our place, and ours alone, to determine our future, and that it is never the place of cisgender people, even our own allies, to define the boundaries of transness, or decide the validity of trans and nonbinary people.
Despite efforts such as HB 1108, transgender and nonbinary people will endure. We have survived oppression and cruelty for as long as rigid notions of gender have existed, and we will survive this. Trump and his cronies, evil as they are, cannot last forever, and no matter what they do, we will still be here when they are gone. But we can also do more than survive. Together with our allies, we can effect vast, revolutionary change. We can destroy not only those forces that oppress us today, but the capitalist system that has enabled our oppression, and the oppression of so many others. We can ensure not only freedom, equality, and safety for ourselves, but for all the generations who will come after us. We can create a new and better world, one without bigotry and oppression, without exploitation and want, a world where we are free to be who we are, with pride, and without fear. This power is in our hands, and we have only to wield it.