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World & Nation

Critics of South Dakota’s transgender bathroom bill are threatening to boycott the state

Thomas Lewis

Thomas Lewis, 18, a transgender student at Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls, S.D., speaks at a news conference in January. 

(Joe Ahlquist / Associated Press)

Opponents of a bill that would prohibit transgender students in South Dakota from using the bathroom of their choice are taking aim at the state’s $3.8-billion tourism industry.

Activists this week used #HiFromSD, a Twitter hashtag created by South Dakota’s Tourism Department, to criticize lawmakers for advancing legislation the activists believe would lead to bullying and discrimination, the Argus Leader newspaper reported.

Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard is considering whether to sign the bill passed by lawmakers that would require transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their sex at birth. Advocates say the bill is meant to protect the privacy of students, but opponents say the legislation is discriminatory.

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Dave Woodside, of Bear, Del., told the newspaper that his family plans to visit Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands in August but will book accommodations outside South Dakota if the transgender bill becomes law.

“Anything I can do to apply a little bit of pressure on the situation, I will do,” he said.

The effort to pressure Daugaard by highlighting potential tourism losses mirrors similar efforts in Indiana and Arizona, both of which recently saw backlash from bills that were criticized as discriminatory.

Tony Venhuizen, Daugaard’s chief of staff, said Thursday that South Dakota has heard talk of tourism boycotts in the past when controversial issues cropped up but that “we’ve never seen a very tangible outcome from that kind of talk.”

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He said the governor hasn’t yet received the bill or reached a decision about it, but plans to talk to people on both sides of the issue.

Top officials at the state Tourism Department didn’t respond to phone messages from the Associated Press or the Argus Leader.

Nicole Ratzlaff, owner of a bed and breakfast in Sioux Falls, said she doubted the transgender legislation would put a dent in the number of visitors coming to the state.

“I see that more as a bullying tactic,” Ratzlaff said.

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