An open letter on SDHB 1076

Transphobic legislation isn’t new to South Dakota. In 2020, 3 notable bills were put forward specifically targeting transgender youth. House Bill 1057 aimed to deny trans youth access to puberty blockers and gender affirming care. Senate Bill 88 attempted to require school counselors to out youth with feelings of gender dysphoria to their parents. Senate Bill 93 set out to empower transphobic parents to deny their gender non-conforming children medical care, including counseling and other psychiatric care.

Unsurprisingly, House legislators are starting right out of the session gates in 2021 with bill 1076. Essentially, this bill says the gender marker on a person’s birth certificate must match their sex assigned at birth. Read the full bill at https://mylrc.sdlegislature.gov/api/Documents/212531.pdf

My Letter to the House HHS

The following is a letter I wrote and sent to the Health and Human Services committee that will be voting on the bill at 8am on Tuesday, January 26th.
Feel free to copy any portion of it to write your own letter to the HHS committee.
I’ve added their emails to the end of this post.

Dear Representatives of the HHS Committee,
My name is Rachel, and I am writing today to urge you to vote NO on House Bill 1076.

This bill targets transgender individuals on the basis that a person’s sex assigned at birth should dictate their gender marker on their birth certificate. The justification for this argument is that a gender that does not match sex assigned at birth is “inconsistent with the science of biology and legislative intent, and therefore necessitates remedial legislation” (HB1076 line 21-22).I have a few corrections to this statement, with references for your convenience. 

  1. Sex and Gender are different. This article from the AP News explains it in detail, but the big takeaway is this: “Sex typically refers to anatomy while “gender goes beyond biology,” says Dr. Jason Rafferty, a pediatrician and child psychiatrist at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Rhode Island, and lead author of the AAP’s transgender policy.”
  2. Science supports the existence of transgender people. For example, this study published in December 2008 finds, “transgender people appear to be born with brains more similar to gender with which they identify, rather than the one to which they were assigned” (Source).

With this information in mind, the justification for this bill no longer makes sense. Science supports the affirmation of gender identity even when it is different than sex assigned at birth. Therefore, the only educated vote on HB 1076 is a NO vote. 

Works Cited: 

Wu, Katherine J. “Between the (Gender) Lines: the Science of Transgender Identity”. Blog, Special Edition: Dear Madam/Mister President. 25 October 2016. http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2016/gender-lines-science-transgender-identity/

Alicia Garcia-Falgueras, Dick F. Swaab, A sex difference in the hypothalamic uncinate nucleus: relationship to gender identity, Brain, Volume 131, Issue 12, December 2008, Pages 3132–3146, https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/awn276

Luders E, Sánchez FJ, Gaser C, Toga AW, Narr KL, Hamilton LS, Vilain E. Regional gray matter variation in male-to-female transsexualism. Neuroimage. 2009 Jul 15;46(4):904-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.03.048. Epub 2009 Mar 31. PMID: 19341803; PMCID: PMC2754583.

Rametti G, Carrillo B, Gómez-Gil E, Junque C, Segovia S, Gomez Á, Guillamon A. White matter microstructure in female to male transsexuals before cross-sex hormonal treatment. A diffusion tensor imaging study. J Psychiatr Res. 2011 Feb;45(2):199-204. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2010.05.006. Epub 2010 Jun 8. PMID: 20562024.

House HHS Committee Emails

Aaron.Aylward@sdlegislature.gov,
Sydney.Davis@sdlegislature.gov,
Erin.Healy@sdlegislature.gov,
Kevin.Jensen@sdlegislature.gov,
Jennifer.Keintz@sdlegislature.gov,
Paul.Miskimins@sdlegislature.gov,
Carl.Perry@sdlegislature.gov,
Taylor.Rehfeldt@sdlegislature.gov,
Tamara.StJohn@sdlegislature.gov,
Kaleb.Weis@sdlegislature.gov,
Marli.Wiese@sdlegislature.gov

It’s been a while

Hello readers. It’s been a while. Between classes with massive workloads and lots hours at work, I haven’t made time to write what’s been on my mind. But today, I’m making that time.

Like many others, what’s on my mind today is gun control. As I was perusing newspapers in Spain for a current events assignment, the Parkland, Florida school shooting kept appearing in these international publications. The most interesting thing about US affairs in international newspapers is the perspective.

From outside the US, there isn’t such a partisan divide between gun control advocates and gun owners. Reading the articles from El Pais on the Parkland incident, this lack of bias was instantly apparent. After this, the question that keeps rolling around my head is “When did weapons and children’s death become a partisan issue in the US?”

I was listening to a podcast yesterday, 538 Politics I believe, and they mentioned the NRA as a uniquely American phenomenon. Many claim the NRA is what drives some of our political representatives to victim blame, or return to the same tired and often untrue argument of mental instability of the perpetrator. This op-ed by Adam Winkler discusses the previous positions of the NRA, including advocacy for gun control.

After an avid discussion (or argument) on Facebook recently, I realized that opinions held on this particular topic aren’t always educated. They often consist of, “I like guns and I know a lot about them and the Constitution guarantees my rights to them so please don’t try to control me.” But what also needs to be considered is this: not everyone understands weapons, and the constitutional provision that allows citizens to have weapons is quite vague and CLEARLY from a different time. Furthermore, to echo the survivors of Parkland,

“Nobody needs an AR-15 to defend themselves.”

So I’m forced to conclude that partisanship on the gun control debate is a result of uneducated or willfully ignorant perspectives from US citizens. Or it could just be the phenomenon of US narcissism.

You can keep your guns, but seriously, do you need a semi-automatic rifle?

Photo Credit: Paul Tong / Tribune Media Services

Supporting Actors

9 p.m. August 2015, Omaha, Nebraska, the Old Market. I was home for the summer, out with old friends catching up on college adventures. They offered to walk me to my car, I said it was only two blocks away. They got in their car and drove away. I started walking while I dug in my purse for my keys. He came up behind me and pinned me to a wall. The streetlights weren’t on yet. I thought he wanted my wallet. Told him to take it out of my purse, whatever he wanted. I felt him pull his zipper down, panicked. I used my nails to tear at exposed skin. He collapsed. I ran.

I was 19 years old.

Women younger than me have recently come forward and shared their stories. They and all the women who have made allegations against powerful public figures recently have started conversations between people who have experienced sexual assault and the rest of the country. Questions raised because of these conversations deal with who should lead the narrative, and which voices on the topic should be the loudest. If the people involved strive to change the culture and right the wrongs done, supporters need to let survivors take leading roles in this publicly staged discussion.

Don’t mistake this rhetoric for denying anyone their voice. Without the support of white men, who generally have little direct experience with sexual assault, there would likely be nothing done. This is the sad reality of U.S. culture. But the problem lies in men or other unaffected people trying to dictate the narrative of conversations without the proper context to do so. They are defining their roles as leading ones, when they should playing supporting parts.

The most logical parallel to be drawn here leads to allies in the LGBT+ community. Their role is to support friends, family and others that identify as anything other than cisgender heterosexual. They do this by defending the community when they aren’t there, and taking responsibility for educating friends while listening and staying in the back seat while queer people lead the conversation.

If this mindset and role can be accepted by sexual assault survivor allies, more productive conversations could happen and eventually lead to more action. Instead of always starting with the “I believe the women” narrative, the conversation could start with what action could be taken to prevent further harm, emotionally and physically. This is the biggest flaw with unaffected people trying to lead the conversations about sexual assault. Though their hearts are clearly in the right place, there is no possible way for people who have not experienced the trauma of sexual assault to understand what exactly needs to be rectified.

If you find yourself arguing with this idea, or even saying, “Wait a minute, don’t I get a say?” consider this: You don’t. Your voice is important in the fight against sexual assault; you are a part of the group that sees this as a problem. But what can you claim that justifies your demands to be included in writing the framework for laws and workplace policies? Do you have a frame of reference for how it feels to jump through hoops to retrieve your dignity? Unless you’ve experienced sexual assault, odds are you don’t. So, even with the best intentions, things will be overlooked or made unnecessarily traumatizing for survivors if left in the hands of people with no comprehension of the issue.

Acknowledging the need to take a supporting role is especially important for men in positions of power. Only 104 members of the 2017 Congress are women, about 20 percent of the 535-member legislative body. Meanwhile, over 50 percent of the U.S. population is female. With these numbers, support from more than only those affected, or even just women, is necessary to effectively change legislation against sexual assault.

However, men do not need to be the ones drafting the legislation presented to Congress. Four female senators spoke out publicly on Meet the Press to share their own #MeToo stories. These women, and any other female member of Congress, would be perfectly capable of developing these bills.

This week the Senate is wrestling similar questions as, among others, Senator Al Franken faces sexual assault charges. What makes Franken’s case particularly poignant is his sponsorship of a bill designed to help sexual assault survivors. Though not every man in Congress is a perpetrator of sexual assault, Franken’s case highlights the need for survivors to take the lead in writing and sponsoring legislation. Thankfully, Senator Amy Klobuchar has stepped up to sponsor the bill formerly adopted by Franken.

Though forced by external events, this is an example of meaningful change in the approach legislators take to conversations about sexual assault. Hopefully the recent influx of allegations will have one good side effect: male legislators recognizing a need to step back and let others lead on this topic.

Since Franken is far from alone on the stage of men in power accused of sexual assault, advocating for change in how we talk about assault and survivors is more important than ever. This is a multi-industry problem, and in the wake of so many allegations against powerful men, people are more willing to listen than before. This bully pulpit of sorts ought to be used to amplify the calls for change in culture, and in conversation.

With the ingrained fear of reprisal slowly draining away, more women feel safe enough to name their attackers. They are also taking a stronger stand against the systematic silencing of assault survivors. What makes changing the conversation difficult is where the support for speaking out ends. Most of the time, supporters applaud a woman sharing her story of survival, but as soon as she finishes telling her story the attitude turns to, “I’ll take it from here, honey.” This becomes the verbal equivalent of putting a hand over the survivor’s mouth mid-sentence.

From Hollywood to Congress, no one can argue that sexual assault is not a problem in the US. This issue will take years to address. The approach to conversations surrounding assault are a contributing factor, and changing this is a stride towards fixing the problem. If people can swallow their pride enough to let those affected most take the lead on conversations and action surrounding sexual assault, at least part of the broken system will be improved.