South Dakota State Representative Bethany Soye is the prime sponsor of HB 1080, a bill that will prohibit gender affirmation treatment on minors. Under the “Help Not Harm” law, doctors wouldn’t be able to prescribe cross-sex hormones, perform genital surgery on kids and interfere with healthy puberty.
Soye told The Iowa Standard last week she believes proponents of the bill have momentum on their side.
“Obviously the public is pretty aware of what’s going on with both the local protests through the local media and all the national attention we’ve been getting as well. I think that’s really going to run in our favor.”
Sanford Health and the Transformation Project hosted a Gender Summit a couple of weeks ago in Sioux Falls, and a group of concerned citizens organized a peaceful protest.
The biggest hurdle for the bill? A legislature that isn’t as conservative as the state it represents.
“I think there’s a disconnect between the general populace, which is very conservative, and then our legislature does not exactly reflect that,” Soye said. “And if people aren’t paying close attention, they don’t notice. Most people have jobs and have other things to do. But when you really get involved in the political process and you start seeing all of these social bills that you think will be easy passes and they die, you wonder how come we don’t reflect the values of the state.”
Soye is hopeful this issue shines a light in other areas where the South Dakota lawmakers are not as conservative as they should be. When others from outside of the state think of South Dakota, it’s likely they think of a Red State, but Soye said there are a lot of liberal policies.
“It just goes back to who hast he money and who has the power,” she said.
In this case, though, she said she believes leadership is “kind of quietly” supporting the bill. John Wiik, who serves in the State Senate and is the new chairman of the South Dakota GOP, signed onto the bill, which Soye said is a good sign.
“I reached out to (Governor Kristi Noem’s) office. I was hoping to work with them on the bill. I wasn’t answered directly, but then the governor did contact the media and said she supports our bill,” Soye said. “They’re supporting it, but it’s still kind of a little bit quiet. It’s encouraging. I think we’re going in the right direction. I think they realize that they can’t ignore it at this point.”
In her second term, Soye said issues such as this are the reason she ran for office.
“I really care about children and families and making sure that they’re safe and that we’re actually following the social conservatives values that we say we have,” she said. “The fact that Sanford is becoming more and more bold with how they promote their practices, especially this Gender Summit – which is the third year that they’ve done it – people are finally noticing that. We just wanted to draw attention to it.”
Specific doctors and providers are performing the surgeries or prescribing the medications. She said she isn’t sure what Sanford’s thoughts on the issue are overall, noting everybody can point to different studies.
“This is just so new and there just haven’t been long-term studies,” she said. “They’ll say it’s totally reversible, but then I can go and find a study that says no. That’s the only thing they’ve used to defend it.”
Help Not Harm is the model legislation and has been introduced in several states. Soye said she thinks it will be introduced in 20-some states due to it being the big cultural issue right now.
“And it’s a winning issue,” she said. “We have worked with some national organizations on making sure we have good, solid language that is going to hold up in court. That was very important.”
The bill has been assigned to the House Health and Human Services Committee.
“We will have our hearing coming up in a couple of weeks and I feel really good on the House side,” Soye said. “I probably have close to 25 House sponsors already. I think it’s going to do very well over there. The Senate is a little bit more of an unknown. But I’m hoping once we pass it through the House we’ll have momentum and it’ll make it easier on the other side.”
Traditional media is following the story and focused on the ACLU’s opposition, Soye said. The narrative of the opposition is that lawmakers are taking away healthcare for transgender children.
“They just try to make us look like we’re the big, bad ones,” she said. “But that’s the typical narrative.”
Taking off her hat as legislator and looking at this issue strictly on a personal level, Soye said this is the top thing she cares about.
“Making sure that children get a chance to be children and that they’re not making decisions that are permanent and they’ll have to live with for the rest of their lives. That’s what I really care about.”
She encourages other states to take up similar legislation.
“There’s just so much momentum right now and there’s really a blue print out there,” she said. “There are a lot of resources and if we all pass this bill, they can’t sue all of us.”