LGBTQ South Dakotans are facing the fight of a lifetime.
On Thursday, Republican state Rep. Tony Randolph introduced a bill that would outlaw marriage equality, permanently legalize conversion therapy, ban changes to legal gender markers, and block the passage of LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections.
House Bill 1215 is the third in a trio of anti-LGBTQ bills brought to the state's legislature this month. On Wednesday, the House passed a bill that would criminalize trans-affirming medical care for minors. The other, Senate Bill 88, would require mental health providers to out kids expressing gender dysphoria to their parents. Anti-LGBTQ lawmakers and organizers use the state as a test case for the nation, experts say.
Kara Ingelhart, a staff attorney at Lambda Legal, characterizes HB 1215 in particular as one of the most comprehensive bills to date targeting LGBTQ people.
“The principles within are trying to erase LGBTQ people from public life,” she tells NewNowNext. “It’s extreme.”
HB 1215 explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman, barring counties from issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples. It forbids the recognition of trans and non-binary people as their lived genders and prohibits county clerks from issuing them amended birth certificates. It bars public libraries and schools from hosting drag queen story hours.
It also permanently legalizes gay conversion therapy, a long-debunked practice that carries a high risk of PTSD, suicidal ideations, and other serious mental health issues for survivors. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia currently have laws on the books restricting or outlawing the practice.
“[HB 1215] is the kind of dangerous bill that threatens the integrity and dignity of LGBTQ people living in South Dakota,” Ingelhart adds. “That sends a dangerous message to everybody.”
It is also unconstitutional, directly contradicting the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that made marriage equality legal nationwide.
LGBTQ advocates criticize HB 1215 as a blatant attempt to send a message that queer people are unwelcome in the state. Randolph did not respond to a request from NewNowNext to explain this intent behind the bill or how he saw it playing out legally.
Ingelhart declined to speculate on whether conservative lawmakers were aiming to revisit the question of marriage equality at the Supreme Court, stating only that advocates on the ground are ready to combat the measure.
Even before the introduction of HB 1215 on Thursday, national LGBTQ organizations reported that they were assembling a field campaign in South Dakota to battle anti-LGBTQ legislation.
The state is seen as ground zero for anti-trans legislation where Republicans control both chambers and the governor’s office. In 2016, the state was the first to introduce a bill barring trans kids from using bathrooms and lockers that aligned with their gender. The measure passed but was ultimately vetoed by former Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Media reports suggested that Daugaard was swayed after meeting with transgender children and their parents.
Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel at HRC, tells NewNowNext that South Dakota legislators can expect to hear from their trans constituents in the coming days.
“You have to center the people who are impacted,” Oakley says. “You have to make sure that they're able to tell their stories. I do think that one of the things that is so important about these bills is that folks are empowered to be able to speak up against them. It's incredibly difficult, especially when the bills are talking about kids.”