The South Dakota legislature passed a bill Tuesday to ban the teaching of gender dysphoria in public schools from kindergarten through seventh grade.
The American Psychiatric Association defines gender dysphoria as involving a conflict between a person's assigned sex and the gender with which they identify. The bill's sponsor, Republican State Representative Tom Pischke, said the intent of the legislation is to prevent public schools from "teaching and confusing our young children to be more susceptible to this dysphoria," the Associated Press reported.
Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Human Rights Campaign have spoken out against the South Dakota bill, arguing that it would further stigmatize transgender youth, who research shows have much higher rates of suicide than youth who identify with their assigned sex.
"Transgender youth are among society's most at-risk populations," Libby Skarin, the policy director of the ACLU of South Dakota, said in a statement. "When they face discrimination and victimization at school, it can often lead to serious negative health and mental health consequences. House Bill 1108 amplifies those negative messages and reinforces the incorrect notion that transgender students are not entitled to the same dignity and respect as all students."
Transgender rights advocates argue that discussing LGBT-related issues in schools creates a more welcoming environment for students who identify as transgender or who may be experiencing gender dysphoria. Outside of South Dakota, some states, like California, have embraced education on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation in public-school health curriculums.
Research indicates that, while many children who experience gender dysphoria won't go on to transition as adolescents or adults, children who experience more intense gender dysphoria and choose to socially transition—change their name, pronouns, and presentation—often do go on to physically transition. A study published in 2019 found that the degree to which a child identifies with the gender opposite to their assigned sex strongly predicts the likelihood of them socially transitioning.
"The findings of this compelling study provide further evidence that decisions to socially transition are driven by a child’s understanding of their own gender," Russell Toomey, an associate professor at the University of Arizona studying LGBTQ youth, told The Atlantic. "This is critically important information given that recent public debates and flawed empirical studies erroneously implicate 'pushy' parents, peers, or other sources, like social media, in the rising prevalence of children and adolescents who identify as transgender."