This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Data error.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Senate Bill 46, an act that bans transgender girls from participating in women’s sports in South Dakota, was signed into law by Governor Kristi Noem on Thursday, February 3.
Opponents of the new law have spoken out against the measure, calling it an attack on children who are among the most vulnerable members of our society.
Susan Williams is the executive director of The Transformation Project, a non-profit agency working to support the transgender community in South Dakota. She cites a 2019 survey by the South Dakota Public Health Association, which found that in South Dakota 56% of transgender persons surveyed had suicidal ideation and that 50% had attempted suicide.
“It’s an extremely high number,” said Williams of the percentage of trans children who attempt suicide. “Even higher than the national rate.”
Williams says that bills such as SB 46 and HB 1005, which would prohibit trans students from using bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, have an impact on the mental health of transgender children.
“Each year during our legislative session, we do see poor mental health outcomes for these kids,” said Williams. “We see an increase in bullying — many kids are really suffering right now. They’re feeling attacked; they feel like they’re not welcome in their own home state.”
Erik Muckey, executive director of Lost & Found, a comprehensive suicide prevention organization says that it is ‘highly likely’ that bills such as SB 64 and HB 1005 will lead to higher rates of attempted suicide in trans youth.
A key issue for many dealing with suicide ideation that Muckey points out is issues with figuring out their identity. This is especially prevalent in transgender children.
Williams highlights the way this issue can affect trans children. “When you’re not able to live as your authentic self, you often do develop mental health issues,” she said. “You’re suffering from the trauma inside, of not being able to be who you really are.”
Williams has seen the impact that a law such as SB 46 has on children, recounting an interaction she had recently had.
“One mom reached out to us who has a transgender girl who wanted to play sports next year in 7th grade — she wanted to play basketball and volleyball — the mom had just been crying for the whole afternoon when this bill was passed,” said Williams. “We see a lot of discouragement.”
This story highlights a real consequence of this new law. “For a trans girl who was wanting to play volleyball, or another sport that there are only girls teams, she’s out of luck,” Williams said.
To parents of transgender children, who may be wondering what to do and how to support their child in light of legislation such as SB 64, Williams says to reach out to The Transformation Project.
“We’ve got support groups; we’ve got connection groups — we will do whatever we can to make sure that you have the support that you need,” Williams said.
To transgender children in South Dakota, Williams also has a message.
“We’re here for you, we love you, we will fight for you and we will try to make sure these things don’t happen again,” Williams said.
“The fact that these bills keep coming back year after year is exhausting for transgender individuals,” said Williams. “This needs to stop.”
Williams calls for legislators to stop bringing anti-trans legislation. “Focus on things that matter in South Dakota — focus on problems that really do exist. Transgender people are not problems.”
Advocacy groups and resources for transgender South Dakotans:
- The ACLU of South Dakota
- The Transformation Project
- Equality SD
- Sioux Falls Pride
- Watertown Love
- PFLAG Brookings
- The Helpline Center: 211
- The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
- Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255