March 7, 2016 at 6:23 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
S.D. anti-trans bill inspires mixed reaction at CPAC
Ben Johnson, gay news, Washington Blade

Ben Johnson opposes Gov. Daugaard’s veto of an anti-trans bill. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Reflecting the challenges in advancing trans rights in certain parts of the country, attendees at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference had mixed views on the South Dakota governor vetoing an anti-trans bathroom bill.

Many CPAC attendees declined to talk with the Washington Blade about the issue, but those who did had views ranging from support to opposition to Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s decision to veto HB 1008. The bill would have prohibited transgender students in South Dakota from using public restrooms in schools consistent with their gender identity.

Ben Johnson, who attended CPAC as U.S. bureau chief of, said he’s “disappointed” Daugaard “vetoed a bill protecting the privacy of young women, and girl’s, restrooms, locker rooms and showers.”

“His comments implied that he vetoed the bill to avoid prosecution by the Obama administration,” Daugaard continued. “I know everyone at CPAC hopes that a new president from another party will end the federal harassment of school districts that uphold the scientific reality of biological differences between the two sexes, and Gov. Daugaard and other conservative governors across the nation will sign bills respecting that distinction within the law.”

Klara McKee, a 17-year-old Kalamazoo, Mich., resident and blogger for Prolife Youth, on the other hand, said she “absolutely” agrees with Daugaard’s veto, citing her experience as the sister of a transgender woman.

“As a sister of a transgender woman, I absolutely support everyone using the bathroom with the gender they identify with,” McKee said.

Identifying herself as a pro-life conservative woman, McKee said having a transgender sister has been both “amazing” and “eye-opening.”

“I think it’s something that absolutely just broadened my horizons and opened my eyes,” McKee said. “It really showed me the world isn’t black or white. You can be grey in some areas.”

Making an implicit reference to the anti-LGBT atrocities committed overseas at the hands of ISIS, McKee said, “I absolutely am so proud to live in this country just because we don’t off and behead people that are their true gender, and I think it’s amazing.”

McKee also expressed support for transgender rights, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, citing the U.S. Constitution.

“I believe that it’s an amazing thing that everybody has their chance to show through now and they don’t have to hide in shame, and I think that even the amazing thing with saying that the Constitution doesn’t withhold same-sex marriage, that’s amazing,” McKee said. “That’s monumental. And I’m so proud to live in a country that works like that.”

Last week, Daugaard became the first governor to veto anti-trans legislation pending in state legislatures throughout the country known as “papers to pee” bills. Days later, the South Dakota House held a vote to override his veto, but the 36-29 vote wasn’t enough to approve the measure.

Victor Whitman, a 25-year-old graduate student at Penn State University in international affairs, said he has “mixed feelings” about the veto and transgender rights.

“I don’t think we should demonize people,” Whitman said. “But also, there is the issue of you can go a little bit too far because ultimately, we are born either male or female, and sometimes people or women may not want to use a bathroom with someone who looks a like man. They may feel uncomfortable. So I do understand why people would propose that sort of legislation. I also understand people who may be in the LGBT movement who may see that as targeting people are who are transgender.”

Whitman said “we should try to strike a balance” and suggested having unisex bathrooms as a potential compromise.

“If a lot of people are using a different bathroom they choose, obviously, a lot of perverts and deviants could take advantage of that,” Whitman said. “So, I guess I have mixed feelings about it. I want to treat people with respect, but also, I’m sympathetic the other side of the movement, people who say that we should have privacy and all that.”

Cody Elliott, a 22-year-old pre-med student at Boise State University, wasn’t as sympathetic.

“The reason why is because you have two chromosome, OK?” Elliott said. “You have X and Y, and when you’re born, if you’re male, you’re a male genetically. There’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. The person may have developed psycho-socially as a female, and that’s why they feel the need to be transgender, but again, in their genes and what their structure is, it’s X and Y or X and X.”

Elliott said his views on the matter could change if he does more research, but from where he stands the issue is “very complicated.”

“Psychologists do a pretty good evaluation of people who want to get a sex change,” Elliott said. “It’s really hard to go through that process. For those who have actually gone through that process, I would probably be OK with them going in. It’s still complicated to me because like I said, genetically speaking, structure determines function, and the functionality is by their genes.”

Regardless of what attendees thought about the veto, some said Daugaard established a precedent being a Republican governor and blocking his state from being the first to enact a “papers to pee” law. According to a report this week from the Human Rights Campaign, an unprecedented number of 44 anti-trans bills are pending in state legislatures in 16 states throughout the country.

Whitman was among those saying Daugaard’s veto would encourage governors elsewhere to stop the anti-trans bills from becoming law.

“Other Republican governors could look at that and then maybe they’ll see he vetoed it, so maybe it’s not politically toxic for me to veto it as well,” Whitman said.

McKee said Daugaard’s veto would be “very influential” going forward to other states legislatures and governors considering anti-trans bills.

“Just because this country started off so small, basing it on freedom, and that’s a huge step for this country,” McKee said. “And seeing that OK, it’s OK to say, ‘We’re not going to keep people from going to the bathroom.’ That’s disgusting. That’s like segregation all over again. And I think that’s absolutely wrong and immoral.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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