VERMILLION - A senator's thoughts about transgender students shocked some South Dakotans at a legislative coffee in Sioux Falls last weekend.
KSFY News asked a clinical psychology professor to explain what makes those comments so harmful
Some people may not understand what it means to be transgender in today's society, but at the University of South Dakota's Psychology Department, one professor makes it their job to spread awareness.
While discussing transgender legislation, South Dakota Senator David Omdahl (R-Sioux Falls) said "I'm sorry you're twisted and don't know who you are."
University of South Dakota assistant professor in clinical psychology Jae Puckett said "I feel like that was a very stigmatizing message about people who are transgender."
After all, knowing who we are is an easy question for most people to answer.
"Often times, if you ask someone did they choose to be straight, people will say no, I just am," Puckett said.
It's no different for people who are transgender, but Senator Omdahl's public comments on about legislation affecting those who are transgender raises questions for some about what makes us male or female.
"People know early on in their life, a sense of their gender identity from young ages. It's not that people are choosing to be transgender, it's a felt sense of who you are. It's not a choice. It's a basic element of a person's being," Puckett said.
"Often times people are faced with a lot of harassment and discrimination around them, so they might be forced to hide who they are because of that, but it's not a choice whether they are trans or not," Puckett added.
Puckett studies the effect anti-LGBT laws have on people.
"We have research that shows just by having anti LGBTQ bills proposed have an effect on increased depression, anxiety, and feelings of distress in the LGBT community," Puckett said.
"Bills like this, if it gets passed or not, has a detrimental effect on people, if it does get passed its a form of basically legalized discrimination," Puckett added.
There's one other thing Puckett is sure about the LGBT community.
"People who are transgender are not twisted, we are people just like everyone else," Puckett said.
The work Puckett does may help those who are transgender, and help others understand.
KSFY News reached out to Senator Omdahl for comment, but have not been able to reach him at this time.