Sioux Falls residents testify as transgender surgery ban moves forward in South Dakota

Opponents argued the proposed legislation goes against general medical practice and would open up the state to legal action.

Anne Dilenschneider, a mental health professional in Sioux Falls who in part works with gender-questioning youth, noted the relative difficulty for minors to undergo hormonal treatment or transgender surgery during testimony to the House Health and Human Services Committee on Jan. 31.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service

PIERRE, S.D. — Following heated testimony in a packed room during the early hours of Tuesday, Jan. 31, a proposal from South Dakota Republicans to “prohibit chemical castration and cosmetic genital surgeries on children” is on its way to the House floor, passing the chamber’s health committee by an 11-2 party-line vote.

Were House Bill 1080 to become law, the practical effect would be punishing doctors who prescribe hormonal treatment to or perform gender-related surgeries on kids who identify as transgender.

In addition to the lawmakers behind the proposal, proponents of the bill included several individuals who regretted their decisions to physically transition as adults — and had since attempted to undo their decisions — and two doctors who were opposed to the medical field’s current general practices on transgender care, honing in on the physical side effects of hormonal treatments and transgender surgeries.

Onlookers fill Room 414 in the South Dakota State Capitol for debate over House Bill 1080 at the House Health and Human Services committee meeting on Jan. 31.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service

“[Puberty blockers] cause stunting of sexual organ development, infertility, loss of bone density, development, and likely negative effects on the brain, but these are unknown,” said Dr. Michael Laidlaw, an endocrinologist from California.

Opponents included providers who work with transgender individuals, representatives from the state’s medical industry and the South Dakota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.


Anne Dilenschneider, a mental health professional in Sioux Falls who in part works with gender-questioning youth, noted the relative difficulty for minors to undergo hormonal treatment or transgender surgery, detailing they must show “years” of gender dysphoria.

That point was supported by Elliott Morehead, a transgender student from Sioux Falls, who said the multi-step process leading up to hormone replacement therapy was much more expansive than proponents of the bill made it seem.

“Often, in these chambers, we hear about freedom, liberty, parental rights and limited government,” Justin Bell, a lobbyist with the South Dakota State Medical Association, said during his opposition testimony. “House Bill 1080 is the antithesis of those concepts, and intrudes on the patient-physician relationship, the parent-child relationship and would prevent physicians from providing evidence-based medical treatment to minor patients.”

Billy Burleigh, a man who had transitioned to a woman beginning at the age of 27 and later undid that process, relayed a graphic depiction of his own experience during surgery, noting that “Transitioning didn't help my mental health issues,” Burleigh said. “I still had to deal with all of those after I did transition.”

An amendment brought by the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Bethany Soye, R-Sioux Falls, clarified that the bans on the use of testosterone, estrogen or progesterone “in amounts greater than would normally be produced endogenously in a healthy individual of the same age and sex” — which originally were only illegal when prescribed to the opposite sex — are illegal when prescribed to either sex.

Opponents say bill — iterations of which have been introduced in past sessions — is a solution in search of problems.

According to Samantha Chapman, the ACLU’s advocacy manager in the state, the statute as written would open the state up to legal challenges based on potential violations to equal protection.

“This bill, if passed, would separately trigger heightened scrutiny for discriminating against individuals based on transgender status, as well as discriminating against individuals based on sex,” Chapman said.

In a series of questions along similar lines from Rep. Kameron Nelson, D-Sioux Falls, Soye claimed she had “consulted with several [constitutional lawyers] ... and they have affirmed that this will stand.”


The proposal’s enforcement mechanism in its current form is a potential loss of professional or occupational licensing for doctors who violate the law as well as an option for patients to seek recourse in the form of a civil lawsuit for “injury suffered” as a result of covered procedures.

The bill will move to the House, where it could be debated as early as this week.

Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or

Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at
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