A young trans girl in South Dakota pretended to have a “broken arm and hand” because of an anti-trans bathroom policy, according to her dad.
Mike Phelan described his family to PinkNews as a “completely average middle of the road American family”. He’s spent much of his career as a teacher and his wife is an audiologist. They moved with their two kids to South Dakota in summer 2020, where he opened a small bookstore.
While they weren’t particularly politically active at first, Phelan said his family “really jumped into it” when it became apparent that fighting for trans rights would be “important in our lives to support our kids”.
“Our youngest came out at three-and-a-half, four-years-old and said, ‘Mom, Dad, I have a girl’s heart,’” Phelan said. “And like, you don’t say no to that. You don’t say you’re wrong about who you are as a person.”
He said the family started to educate themselves and support her as best as they could “just like most parents would”.
Phelan told PinkNews that his daughter is “one of the most kind”, “joy-filled people” that he knows and that she even describes herself as “love dipped in fun”.
So he said it was heartbreaking to him to see the impact of anti-trans legislation on his young child, who is currently six-years-old.
Phelan told PinkNews that his family was especially active in fighting a horrific bill that would have banned trans youth from using the correct bathrooms at schools in South Dakota. The bill was eventually killed in February after an all-Republican committee struck it down.
Phelan said his daughter had been forced to use the nurse’s bathroom any time that she needed to use school facilities.
“In a sense, that sounds like a reasonable compromise, but it’s just another way of making a small handful of kids different,” Phelan commented.
He described how the policy had a profound impact on his young child, and he said she even purposefully avoided drinking anything at school just so she didn’t have to go to the nurse’s bathroom.
“She would hold her left arm and her right hand – things like that – pretending it was broken so it looked reasonable that she was going to the nurse,” Phelan recalled.
He continued: “Her friends didn’t understand why she had to go to the nurse so much and asked her if she had cancer because they were worried about her dying.
“Because that’s the only thing that made sense to them of why somebody would have to go to the nurse so often.
“She wouldn’t drink very much at school throughout the day so that she wouldn’t have to use the bathroom, and then she’d be cranky and dehydrated when I picked her up.”
So his family decided to fight against the policy all the way to the Vermillion school board. Phelan told PinkNews that several cisgender kids spoke up in support of their trans friends and classmates, and the local university’s LGBT+ group “showed up en mass” to talk about the support they wished they had in grade school.
Eventually, the school board did implement a trans restroom policy, which is the first of its kind in South Dakota.
Mike Phelan said that, despite the overwhelming number of Republican lawmakers in South Dakota, anti-trans bills keep being defeated, for the most part.
But he shared that there are a “handful of people” that keep introducing these “ridiculous” bills that “hurt trans kids” to be able to “drum up their own political support”. He added many of these bills are “copycat bills” that are being pushed by anti-LGBT+ groups nationwide.
Phelan especially called out governor Kristi Noem’s ad, released earlier this year as part of her re-election campaign, for attacking the trans community.
He described the bill as something “special” as Noem used “all this money for a national ad” to show “how great you are for attacking trans kids”.
“To use the already very vulnerable population for political gain, especially for personal political gain in that way, is just disgusting,” Phelan told PinkNews.
Phelan said his family was geared up to keep fighting anti-trans legislation, including South Dakota’s trans sports ban, to make sure his daughter can grow up doing what she loves.
He said the sports bill doesn’t impact his daughter yet as there aren’t school-sponsored sports in their school district until seventh grade. But he said the ban still signals to trans kids that they “don’t belong”.
“The way that it hits us is that it is a ‘you don’t belong, we don’t want you here’ sort of message,” Phelan said.
He told PinkNews that his daughter is “somewhat sporty” and has shown an interest in gymnastics after attending a co-ed camp at a local high school.
Phelan recalled she told him that she wanted to be on the school’s female gymnastics team one day after seeing pictures of the athletes on the gymnasium wall.
“She looked up at the wall and said, ‘You know, I can’t wait till I get to be on the team with just like those girls,’” Phelan said.
“It is something that’s very much in her mind that she wants to do in the future, and I really hope that we can get this defeated through one mechanism or another, whether it’s a federal action or having to sue and overturn laws.”