Bill to open puberty blockers to trans kids with parental approval fails in committee

Supporters say 2023 ban took away parental rights

By: - February 7, 2024 1:04 pm
A protester displays a sign at the "Stop Criminalizing Trans Existence" protest in Sioux Falls on Feb. 1, 2020. The protest was in response to bills introduced during the 2020 legislative session. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

A protester displays a sign at the “Stop Criminalizing Trans Existence” protest in Sioux Falls on Feb. 1, 2020. The protest was in response to bills introduced during the 2020 legislative session. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

An effort to open up certain kinds of medical care for transgender youth whose parents consent to the treatment failed in a state Senate committee on Wednesday morning.

Parents of trans kids told lawmakers that the passage of House Bill 1080 in 2023 robbed them of their parental rights and hurt their kids. That bill, which became law with a signature from Gov. Kristi Noem, banned puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgical transitions for minors.

Noem signs transgender youth health care ban into law

Last year’s backers of HB 1080 became opponents to Senate Bill 216 on Tuesday. They argued that parents ought not be allowed to encourage their children to take part in “irreversible” treatments.

As written, SB 216 would have allowed children to access puberty blockers and hormone therapy with their parents’ consent. Parents ought to have the right to make decisions for their kids, according to the bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Reynold Nesiba, D-Sioux Falls.

South Dakota is “forcing some parents to seek care outside of our state to be able to get access to life-giving care for their children,” Nesiba told the committee.

Parent, student testify in favor

Carrie Soto, the Sioux Falls parent of a transgender child, told the committee that lawmakers had taken away her right to do what’s best for her child with HB 1080.

“You told all parents of transgender youth, and those looking in from the outside, that they must be harming their children, not helping them,” Soto said. “All of this was done without knowing me or my child.”

Children do not flippantly “choose” a transgender identity, said Elliott Morehead, a 17-year-old trans student who attends Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls. 

South Dakota transgender 16-year-old Elliott Morehead testifies Jan. 31, 2023, at the Capitol in Pierre against a bill to ban some forms of health care for transgender youth. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)
South Dakota 16-year-old Elliott Morehead testifies Jan. 31, 2023, at the Capitol in Pierre against a bill to ban some forms of health care for transgender youth. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

“Being trans isn’t a quirky, trendy thing … I would not choose an identity where I have to strategically plan out my day because I can’t use the bathroom, because I either feel like I’m going to get hate-crimed or have security called on me,” Morehead said.

Morehead said it was troubling to lose access to treatment through legislative fiat. 

“I no longer had the opportunity to be my authentic self, with my parents, with my doctor, and by myself,” Morehead said.

Morehead and Soto were among 13 supporters of SB 216. The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota argued that South Dakota is setting itself up for costly legal challenges by removing decision-making authority from parents and doctors.

“There are legal costs to decisions like this. There are also personal costs, which you’ve heard about here,” said Samantha Chapman, director of the ACLU of South Dakota.

Opposition: ‘Wait till they’re a little older’

Opponents urged the committee to keep the law in place as-is.

Norman Woods of Family Voice Action told the committee that the use of puberty blockers advances “a dangerous lie being whispered in the ears of the youth.”

The lie is “that ‘you are a mistake,’” Woods said.

“We know every child is fearfully and wonderfully made.” 

The bill would not have legalized surgical interventions, but Woods argued that kids who use puberty blockers are more likely to ultimately seek surgical interventions, which he called irreversible and too impactful to allow minors to get.

Why hasn’t a lawsuit challenged SD’s trans health care ban?

Lisa Janeiro of Concerned Women for America told the committee that young people are often confused about their identity. She said she was a tomboy as a kid, one who rejected traditional “female” activities, but that she “grew to enjoy being a woman.”

“We’re not saying that we want people not to get these surgeries if they want to, if that’s what they would like,” Janeiro said. “But we’re just asking for people to wait till they’re a little older, get through puberty.”

A pastor from Parkston named Michael Boyle said “our gender is part of what’s given to us by God,” and that parents and children ought not be free to make decisions based on “wants.” 

“We have to have a moral standard that’s outside of just what I want and what you want,” Boyle said.

The state shouldn’t allow parents to make decisions that could harm their children, Boyle added.

Bill rejected 5-1

Three others opposed SB 216, including a representative for South Dakota Catholics, a former school counselor who now represents South Dakotans for Liberty and Rep. Bethany Soye, R-Sioux Falls, who sponsored HB 1080 last year.

In his rebuttal, Nesiba railed against the idea that a tomboy is comparable to a person with gender dysphoria, and the notion that the law bars parents from letting children make decisions they might regret.

“A 16-year-old in the state of South Dakota, with parental consent, can get married,” Nesiba said. “You’re saying they can get married, but they can’t get puberty blockers?”

The bill failed quickly after Nesiba’s rebuttal, however. Sen. Erin Tobin, R-Winner, said she has too many concerns about the long-term impact of gender-affirming care.

“We don’t know enough about what happens when a minor has been given hormones. What happens when they’re 60 or 70?” Tobin said. “We don’t necessarily have that research.”

The bill was rejected 5-1. Sen. Shawn Bordeaux, D-Mission, was the lone dissenting vote.

 

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John Hult
John Hult

John is the senior reporter for South Dakota Searchlight. He has more than 15 years experience covering criminal justice, the environment and public affairs in South Dakota, including more than a decade at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

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