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South Dakota's governor just vetoed an anti-transgender school bathroom bill

Philippe Lopez/AFP via Getty Images

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard just vetoed an anti-transgender school bathroom bill that drew national criticism from LGBTQ groups.

The bill said "every restroom, locker room, and shower room located in a public elementary or secondary school that is designated for student use and is accessible by multiple students at the same time shall be designated for and used only by students of the same biological sex." It defined biological sex as "the physical condition of being male or female as determined by a person's chromosomes and identified at birth by a person's anatomy."

It also asked schools to provide a "reasonable accommodation" for trans students, like building a one-person, unisex bathroom, but only if it didn't burden the school district — a standard with enough caveats that schools may be able to avoid it.

The bill did not mention trans students specifically. But it was clearly targeted at trans students, who identify with a gender different from the one assigned to them at birth.

The state's legislature passed the bill. But Daugaard rejected it, writing in a veto letter, "If and when these rare situations arise, I believe local school officials are best positioned to address them. Instead of encouraging local solutions, this bill broadly regulates in a manner that invites conflict and litigation, diverting energy and resources from the education of the children of this state."

One reason for the veto: The bill could have drawn a legal challenge from the federal government. The Justice Department and Department of Education interpret Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in publicly funded schools, to ban anti-trans discrimination. In the most advanced lawsuit over bathroom access, the Justice Department has weighed in to support a student's access to the bathroom that corresponds with his gender identity.

But more broadly, the bill played into a dangerous myth about trans people.

The bathroom myth is, well, a myth

The bathroom myth: the idea that if trans people are legally allowed to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, men will take advantage of the law to enter women's bathrooms to spy on and sexually assault women.

But sexual assault is illegal, even if a state doesn't pass a bathroom bill.

There's also no evidence that trans-friendly laws lead to voyeurism or sexual assaults in bathrooms.

Experts from 12 states with laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination told Carlos Maza of Media Matters that they don't know of a single reported instance of sexual assaults in bathrooms stemming from the laws.

Experts say LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws do not lead to sexual crimes in bathrooms. Media Matters

In another investigation, Media Matters also found that 17 school districts around the country with protections for LGBTQ people, which collectively cover more than 600,000 students, had no problems with harassment in bathrooms or locker rooms after implementing their policies.

Still, the myth remains prominent. In Houston, it was one of the ideas opponents of a civil rights law for LGBTQ people used to get people to vote against the measure. But it apparently wasn't enough to overcome the governor's veto in South Dakota.