ELECTED OFFICIALS who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk are an unfortunate fact of American political life. That makes the veto by South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard of a bill that would have restricted bathroom access for transgender students all the more noteworthy. Not only did Mr. Daugaard make clear that the measure mandated a solution to a problem that did not exist, but the Republican showed his commitment to local control, a bedrock principle of his party. His well-reasoned actions should serve as an example to lawmakers in other states where opportunistic politicians are targeting transgender people with legislation built on prejudice and false fears.
“House Bill 1008 does not address any pressing issue concerning the school districts of South Dakota,” Mr. Daugaard wrote Tuesday in vetoing a bill that would have required students to use public school bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their biological sex rather than their gender identity. The policy would have been the first of its kind in the nation, placing South Dakota and its governor under a microscope. So it was particularly important that Mr. Daugaard undertook careful deliberation, reviewing legislative hearing testimony and court cases and meeting with transgender students and their parents. “I saw things through their eyes in that sense,” he said.
Thanks to his efforts, he grasped the harm that could be caused by the legislation. Rightly, he concluded that these sometimes-challenging but rare situations are best navigated by families and school districts and not dictated by mandates that invite “conflict and litigation.”
The governor no doubt was aware that the bathroom bill would have put South Dakota at odds with federal policy. The Obama administration has determined that students have a civil right to use bathrooms and locker rooms in accordance with their gender identity. A landmark case brought by the Education Department against a school district in Palatine, Ill., was resolved after the district provided a female transgender student access to the girls’ locker room and privacy curtains.
That it was possible to work out reasonable accommodations in that case — and in other instances across the country that do not elicit headlines — is too often lost in the increasingly hysterical debate over transgender issues. The privacy of all students can be protected without singling out some for discrimination if reason — of the kind exhibited by Mr. Daugaard — is employed.