Good news out of South Dakota as Governor Dennis Daugaard has vetoed a bill that would’ve forced trans students to use bathrooms and locker rooms prescribed for use by the gender they were assigned at birth.
The veto carries significant implications as Daugaard, a Republican governor in a decidedly red state, has said he need to research the issue more to understand what the bill means. The GOP’s stance on trans rights has been decidedly single-minded, represented most poignantly perhaps by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s claim in an early Presidential campaign debate that “The military is not a social experiment.” He was referring to the possibility of letting trans people serve openly in America’s armed forces. (Spoiler alert to Mr. Huckabee: Trans people already do serve in the military; they just don’t feel safe letting people like you know that.)
Daugaard’s veto and commentary represents a sharp turn-around from his original position on the bill:
“‘I’m sorry if you’re so twisted you don’t know who you are,’ he said when asked about the bill in February. ‘I’m telling you right now, it’s about protecting the kids, and I don’t even understand where our society is these days.'” –Daugaard quoted on NBCNews.com
Is Daugaard’s admitted ignorance on trans issues possibly what motivated him to veto the bill and call for more research? If so, it could be a new high point for the efforts of the trans movement’s inroads into public thinking around issues like access to public facilities. When politicians change their opinions in such a short space of time, it’s usually in response to a groundswell of public opinion, and Daugaard could very well be responding to something like that. Although it’s perhaps more likely that he was conscious of the efforts of the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union, two national organizations more than capable of bringing a fight to his state of the bill had become law.
Whatever motivated his move politically, a big takeaway is that it is possible to re-shape the conversation around trans people and their struggles, even in a state that’s only voted for one Democratic presidential candidate since 1940 (LBJ in ’64). Daugaard’s original stance on trans experiences is not an uncommon one; conservatives have often used the tactic of spinning trans people as confused by a postmodern sense of relativity or living in a fantasy world (WARNING: both of these links are intensely and intentionally transphobic). These tactics are employed in order to create a false debate around the reality of transgender people (similar to climate change denial) that ignores the recent and ancient history or trans experiences.
Daugaard’s move away from these narratives may just be a reaction to unwanted attention from the ACLU or HRC, but it’s significant that the trans community has these allies to fight these toxic suggestions now. Of course, members of the trans community are spearheading their own charges through organizations like the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Transgender Law Center.
It’s hard to say what went on inside his head or his office, but this veto is significant in that it represents maybe the most nationally legislation effecting trans people since the repeal of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance in late 2015.
It’s hard to call a cessation of hostilities a victory or progress, but that’s what it is for trans people who are trying to win over the public narratives around their own experiences.