“Equality IS a South Dakota value.”
“Frustration, disappointment, pain – The three words that our community uses to describe these extreme and discriminatory bills from our legislature.
Each new year brings excitement for many South Dakotans. But January looks very different for those in the LGBT community. As the legislative session begins, and the bills introduced make their way to our ears and eyes, our community becomes frightened and scared of our legislature and what they propose.
We have seen these attacks from our legislature arise year after year. Each year they become worse. They become more harmful and more hateful. This year is no exception, as a package of bills moving through Pierre targets each and every member of the LGBT community.
These bills bring back the same ugliness that America has seen with racial discrimination and discrimination against women’s rights. One would like to think those days are of that past, but those days of discrimination, intolerance, and a misunderstanding are very much alive today in the South Dakota Legislature.
These bills target the safety of transgender children. They seek to isolate them and cast them aside, treating them like they are broken. A child, in their innocence, treated in such as way, will only blame themselves for the way they are, and they think they are a mistake. That they are not part of Gods plan – so why do they exist. These bills perpetuate and ideology that anything that is not like them, must be feared and controlled. Which leads down a very hateful and dangerous path as a society. Gender-based bullying affects all children. Creating school environments that respect and affirm gender diversity will empower all students rather than limit them. No student should be prevented from pursing their passions, including sports, simply because of who they are.
LGB youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide as their straight peers. 41 percent of transgender and gender non-conforming people have attempted suicide. 41 percent compared to 4.6 percent, the national average. This is not because LGBT people are mentally unstable, it’s because of intolerance and rejection like we are seeing by our legislature.
I don’t know if many South Dakotans know this, but we are ranked the 7th highest state, for the number of citizens identifying as LGBT per capita – higher than California. Shouldn’t our legislature have a vested interest in protecting and providing for all its citizens?
Our community is scared by these bills. We try to lead fruitful lives – earn a successful career, meet someone to share our life with, raise a family, but all while our legislature is pulling the rug from beneath our feet. We are afraid for our own safety and protection. Scared we could be fired from our jobs. Scared we will be rejected from finding a home. Scared to simply go to the bathroom as the gender we are in our heart, mind and soul.
The Center for Equality is tirelessly working for our community. To be a beacon of hope, a place of refuge to create a better future for South Dakota. We are here for those struggling with their sexuality – afraid to be out publically. We are here for those who are figuring out their gender identity – and don’t know where to turn. We are here for those simply wanting community – to know that are not alone. We are here to protect and support their rights – to stand up against discrimination and prejudice.
This is my community. This is what we face and what we know to be true. It’s difficult for us to thrive when we are constantly fighting for our basic rights. We do not ask for special privilege. We do not have a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender agenda – if we did, I’ve missed the memo and have not been invited to any of the meetings.
But what is clear, is the agenda of the legislature who propose these dangerous bills, based on fear, not on fact. As we look through history, fear has never been a motivator for acceptance or peace. It has always lead us down a lath of isolation, discrimination, and hatred. Transgender people are not someone to be feared because they are different. They are to be understood.
Fear is NOT a South Dakota value.
Hard work is a South Dakota value.
Kindness is a South Dakota value.
Equality IS a South Dakota value.
LGBT people are our friends, neighbors, family and coworkers. We – just like everyone else – contribute to South Dakota’s economy and are important community members. We deserve to be treated like everyone else.
That is why we are urging all fair minded South Dakotan’s who believe that this is not what our state government should be doing, to stand up and make your voices heard. Contact your legislators, show up in Pierre, and make it clear that equality IS a South Dakota value.
Thank you.” – Thomas Christiansen, President of The Center for Equality
This is the speech Thomas gave when The Center for Equality and ACLU SD hosted a press conference on January 29, 2016 at the Downtown Holiday Inn in Sioux Falls. The purpose was to announce a coalition of groups opposed to the horrific anti-LGBT legislation the SD legislature is considering this year.
South Dakota politicians have introduced a package of bills that makes it clear that legislators are growing more hostile toward LGBT South Dakotans. These bills are an open attack on ordinary South Dakotans and target LGBT citizens for discrimination. The package of legislation includes:
HB 1107: A bill that opens the door to unprecedented taxpayer-funded discrimination against LGBT people, single mothers, and unmarried couples.
HB 1008: A bill that would single out and stigmatize South Dakota transgender students and force them to choose between isolated accommodations or those that do not correspond to their gender identity.
HB 1112: A bill to ban transgender students from participating in high school athletics and activities according to their gender identity.
Special thank you to Libby Skarin, Policy Director of the ACLU of South Dakota, in partnership with the following local and national organizations: South Dakota Peace and Justice Center, SD Common Ground Diversity Center, Equality South Dakota, Black Hills Center for Equality, National Center for Transgender Equality, PFLAG National, Human Rights Campaign, Equality Federation, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Transgender Law Center, Family Equality Council, Freedom for All Americans, GLSEN, Lambda Legal, Secular Coalition for America