Nicole Clade, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Vermillion, posed a two part question to District 17 legislators early Saturday morning.
“I work with a lot of LGBT youth, specifically trans youth and their families, and I would like to know how you would like me to respond, specifically you Rep. Rasmussen, about what to say when they ask me why our state government doesn’t trust them to make the best medical decisions on behalf of their family,” she said. “My second question is how we you all respond when the suicide attempts and rates and successes go up in our state this next year, specifically among our trans youth?”
Her question set the tone for much of the first District 17 Legislative Cracker Barrel session in Vermillion’s City Hall. The meeting, sponsored by local businesses, the League of Women Voters and the local Republican and Democratic parties, gave local citizens a chance to give feedback to District 17 Sen. Art Rusch of Vermillion and District 17 Reps. Nancy Rasmussen of Hurley and Ray Ring of Vermillion.
The legislation Clade referred to is House Bill 1057, which criminalizes medical treatment for transgender youth by prohibiting hormone procedures, puberty blockers and gender confirmation surgery for children younger than 16 years old. Those treatments would be a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of one year in jail and a maximum fine of $2,000, after the legislation’s original felony language was softened.
The bill was approved Feb. 29 by the South Dakota House and Rasmussen gave the legislation an affirmative vote. Ring voted against the measure.
The legislation will be heard in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Monday, February 10.
“I can’t tell you what you want or need to say to those people who come to you,” Rasmussen told Clade. “I feel sad that this has been polarized into being just about advanced trans children. I did not sign onto the bill, but I know the representative (who introduced it) and the intent of the bill was to protect all children, not just trans children.
“All he (Rep. Fred Deutsch, the bill’s sponsor) is that we wait. Hormones are hard to deal with, no matter what age a person is in,” she said. “That bill and the people who voted for it are only asking for people to wait whether you’re transgendered or not transgendered. Nobody is saying you can’t be who you are. You just are who you are, and I think that what happens between myself and my doctor is very, very important, but we also have a history with our physicians and at one time bloodletting was the answer to whatever. We found that to be wrong and we changed.”
Removing tonsils used to be a big thing, Rasmussen said, adding that the removal of a woman’s uterus is sometimes found to be not the best medical practice.
“I feel very sad that everyone feels so intensely,” she said, “like this an attack upon …”
“It is!” many members in the audience shouted.
“Well, some people think it is and some people don’t think it is,” Rasmussen said.
“It hasn’t been in front of the Senate,” Rusch said, adding that he met with Rep. Deutsch. “I let him know my concerns about his bill and there were several changes that were made in that bill, amendments that were made and I don’t know whether that had anything to do with me talking with him.
“The age was reduced from 18 to 16 and the offense level was changed from a Class 4 felony down to a Class 1 misdemeanor,” he said. “Certainly I thought that those were positive changes that were made. I’ve received a number of emails and letters from people who have horrendous stories about both sides of this.”
Rusch said he’s heard from the father of a 12-year-old girl who says she is trans and wants a double mastectomy. “That certainly mitigates in favor (of the bill), but I’m concerned about the part of it that makes it a criminal offense. South Dakotans have too big of an idea that making things criminal offenses is the answer to everything … I just am offended by the fact that South Dakotans think the answer to everything is to make more and more crimes.”
He added that counties likely will be reluctant to prosecute the offenses spelled out in the bill.
“If the people who are promoting this bill think that state’s attorneys are going to put aside their rapes and their murders and their DWIs to prosecute this kind of a case and perhaps have the county face tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of expert witness fees for that, you’re dreaming,” said Rusch, a retired circuit court judge. “The state’s attorney has absolute discretion to say, ‘no, I’m not going to prosecute that,’ and my expectation of knowing most of the state’s attorneys in South Dakota is that is exactly what they are going to say, so the whole thing is a waste of effort … to expect that the state is going to prosecute people in this kind of case, it isn’t going to happen, in my view.”
“Most of what this bill addresses, to the best that I can find out and I’m certainly not an expert,” Ring said, “but I’ve heard from close to 100 people now. I’ve did some research including reading a document that Rep. Deutsch had passed around and asked us to read.
“I had to make the best judgment I could,” he said, “My judgment is that from talking to several people, first of all, most of what’s in that bill is simply not happening in South Dakota. It’s contrary to medical procedures. What is used is puberty blockers.”
Ring said puberty blockers delay puberty and give kids who think they are transgender “time to sort out a lot of the pressure that’s on them. In that sense, this bill isn’t asking them to wait. It’s asking children to wait by giving them puberty blockers. Much of what this bill is about with asking people to wait is putting (procedures) off until they’re adults.”
He said South Dakota needs to deal with increasing rates of suicide among all of its population.
“We don’t need to make it even worse by passing this bill,” Ring said. “What we need is more resources, more counselors for children with all sorts of problems and behaviors and that just goes back to something that I’ve been preaching for a long time – we need something to provide more governmental resources in order to take care of people who need help and for whatever reason can’t get it themselves.”