The transgender community of South Dakota, being led by Lewis who was born a girl but related more to male behavior has raised questions and met with the Governor with a plea to un-restrict the controlled use of shower rooms, locker rooms and restrooms in universities.
This has raised several doubts and rounds of questioning by the families of students in the universities.
Just like any other high school senior, 18-year-old Thomas Lewis is looking forward to life after graduation.
He’s considering attending the University of Minnesota in the fall and studying linguistics, something his mother thinks might be his true calling due to his love of languages.
However, while other teens at Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, might be thinking right now about prom and graduation day, Lewis has been taking time off from school to appeal to the state legislature and Gov. Dennis Daugaard — speaking out against a bill that could affect him and other transgender students.
Lewis was born a girl, but says he began to identify more as a boy when he was about 4 years old. He now lives openly as a boy, with the support of his family and friends.
He’s hoping to persuade Daugaard to reject a proposed measure that would restrict the use of school restrooms and locker rooms to students of the same biological sex, meaning transgender students would have to use the restroom of the sex they were born with, not the one with which they identify now.
The legislation — which passed the South Dakota Senate last week by a 20-15 vote — says that students who don’t identify as their biological gender may not use facilities designated for students of the opposite sex when those students might be present. Transgender students will instead be provided with a “reasonable accommodation” — defined in the proposal as the use of “a single-occupancy restroom, a unisex restroom, or the controlled use of a restroom, locker room, or shower room that is designated for use by faculty.”
It also orders that no “undue hardship” be placed on a school district — possibly referring to the construction of separate restrooms — and explains that private schools are exempt from the “reasonable accommodation” clause.
The governor received the bill Tuesday, and has five business days to act on it. He must sign it into law or veto it by March 1 — but if he does nothing, the measure will become law without his signature, making South Dakota the first state in the country to restrict bathroom and locker room use by transgender people.
‘I’m being that voice for them’
It’s not clear how many transgender students there are in South Dakota. Many are afraid to go public with their sexual identity for fear of reprisals and worries about alienating friends and family members.
Lewis recently appeared before a state committee to tell legislators why he thinks the proposed law would be harmful. He said he’s speaking out for other transgender students at his school who are not “completely out like me.”
“I’m being that voice for them,” he said.
The bill makes him feel that he’s “not human enough to use the bathroom with everyone else,” Lewis told CNN this week while sitting at home after school, playing with his four cats. “I mean, you can make a third bathroom by isolating me with other transgender students in a place where it’s easier to get picked on. It’s like having to go off into the problem box.”
Lewis’ mom, Rachiel Reurink, said she’s so proud of him.
“My son is awesome. I mean, it is so fortunate that he sees that he has support and can say ‘I am in a safe place, I am going to fight for people who aren’t in that place,'” she said. Her husband, Lewis’ stepfather, died just two months ago, leaving her to raise Thomas and his teenage brother alone.
Meeting with the governor
Tuesday, Lewis and two other transgender people met with the Republican governor at the state capitol in Pierre to discuss the measure, an encounter requested by the Sioux Falls-based Center for Equality after Daugaard commented recently that he had never knowingly met a transgender person.
Earlier in February, according to the Argus Leader newspaper, Daugaard said he didn’t feel he needed to meet transgender people before deciding the fate of HB 1008.
But after Tuesday’s discussion, the governor said the meeting helped him “see things through their eyes a little better and see more of their perspective,” according to the newspaper. His office also released a statement saying Daugaard “appreciated the Center for Equality group taking the time to meet with him.”