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South Carolina LGBT Advocates Testify and Rally Against Anti-Transgender Bill

by Ryan Wilson April 15, 2016

Last week, South Carolina Senator Lee Bright introduced S.1203. The bill takes its lead from the outrageous, extreme and discriminatory law recently passed in North Carolina, HB 2. It would force transgender people to use the bathroom consistent with their biological sex, not their gender identity, in all publicly-owned facilities including schools. It then goes even further: S.1203 would take away the ability for cities and counties to pass common sense non-discrimination protections that would allow transgender people to access other bathrooms in accordance with their gender identity.

This week, Sen. Bright (R) and Sen. Joel Lourie (D) heard testimony over the course of two days from concerned South Carolinians. SC Equality led a broad coalition of LGBT and ally organizations, transgender youth groups, the SC business community, small business owners, attorneys, educators, politicians, faith leaders, parents, and children to testify before the General Subcommittee. On the first day, only four people testified in support of the bill, in contrast to approximately 80 people who were there to testify in opposition to this shameful attack on transgender people. In fact, opposition was so apparent that at one point the Senators asked if any other supporters of the bill could be found in the building -- they could not. In a desperate email, the Palmetto Family Council called for their supporters to attend the second day of testimony to try unsuccessfully to compete with the overwhelming opposition to the bill.

City of Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin spoke on behalf of a group of mayors who oppose S.1203 including the mayors of a range of cities from Charleston, Florence, and Anderson, to  Greenwood and Abbeville. Former South Carolina Secretary of Education Inez Tenenbaum, State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, and employment law attorney Malissa Burnette, were joined by a representative of the SC Chamber of Commerce, which along with the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce, the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, and the Midlands Industrial Leadership Forum all oppose S.1203.  

In a letter to the Senate General Committee chair Sen. Bryant in opposition to S.1203, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott called the bill unnecessary and unenforceable.

“In the 41 years I've been in law enforcement in South Carolina, I have never heard of a transgender person attacking or otherwise bothering someone in a restroom,” said Lott.

Richland County has had a transgender inclusive non-discrimination ordinance on the books since 2011 and Sheriff Lott has a long history of supporting the LGBT community in Columbia over his 5 terms in office, most notably having had a designated LGBT liaison officer for over 10 years.

Even with this impressive list of state leaders, the most powerful testimony of the day came from transgender South Carolinians who would be impacted if S.1203 became law.

Grayson Keck, age 13, talked bravely about being a transgender student and the challenges he faces using the nurse's restroom at his schools in Columbia. “None of the people introducing this bill know the pain of constantly having to prove yourself to a world that you do not feel safe in. We were brought into this world to live, not to be targeted by people who don’t know what it’s like to be born in a shell that doesn’t match your interior spirit.” Grayson continued, “Every day, I have to fight for the world just to see me as the person I am. I don’t need this bill, and my transgender peers don’t need this bill. Please, don’t do this to my community. Please, don’t do this to me.”

Capri Culpepper, who made national news last year for suing the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles for the right to wear makeup in her driver's license photo challenged the committee saying, “Look at me and tell me I belong in the men’s restroom.”

OK Keyes, who is an educator and facilitates a local LGBTQ youth group in the Midlands thanked Sen. Bright for his bill because it has galvanized the transgender community in South Carolina to speak out and tell their stories. Keyes asked the committee out of respect to use they/them pronouns or just call them Keyes. The two days of testimony were historic in South Carolina:  It was possibly the first time that transgender and genderqueer people were ever able to tell their stories for the official record.

Following the first day of testimony, a large group rallied outside the State House with signs that read “Trans Lives Matter” and “Being Trans is Not a Crime”. The rally was organized Trans United of South Carolina and the Trans Student Alliance and they were joined by youth from We Are Family, Youth OUTLOUD, and Gender Benders with support from Girls Rock Columbia and SONG.  In a statement about the rally, Theo Santos, President of the Trans Student Alliance at the University of South Carolina said, “We want South Carolina to know that we will not stand for discrimination targeting transgender people in our state. This rally and movement is not just to take down the bill, but to make steps towards widespread progress for transgender people in South Carolina. Trans youth voices are incredibly important as they are the ones most targeted by this bill.” Theo continued.

At the end of the second day of testimony, Sen. Lourie announced that S.1203 will be put on a calendar for full committee consideration by Sen. Bryant at a time of his discretion but Sen. Lourie assured the room that S.1203 would not become law this year. Sen. Lourie has pledged to kill the bill with a state senate procedural move known as a ‘minority report’ if the bill isn’t voted down by the General Committee. The bill must pass the SC Senate before May 1st to be considered further this session.

HRC has staff based in South Carolina and we are working with SC Equality, the ACLU, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and a broad coalition of local organizations to oppose this dangerous legislation. For more information about how to get involved in South Carolina, contact HRC’s Senior Regional Field Organizer Ryan Wilson at ryan.wilson@hrc. 

Don't Criminalize My Gender

Above: Photo by Mahkia Greene

South Carolina; Transgender Flag

Above: Photo by Mahkia Greene

Grayson Keck, Dex Sexton, Danielle Driscoll

Above: Screen Shot from courtroom recording of testimony - (Left to right) Grayson Keck (13), Dex Sexton (17), Danielle Driscoll (mother of Grayson).

Above: Photo by Ivy Gibson-Hill

Ryan Wilson
Ryan Wilson


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