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Mix of Hope, Fear as SD Transgender Advocates Organize


Monday, March 1, 2021   

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Over the weekend, LGBTQ advocates held demonstrations in seven cities across South Dakota to rally against legislation viewed as harmful to their community. The events coincided with federal efforts to expand protections for individuals.

Last week, the U.S. House passed the Equality Act, which would bar discrimination against people who identify as LGBTQ.

South Dakota is among more than 20 states that don't have these protections.

Susan Williams, executive director for the Transformation Project Advocacy Network, said having a federal law would make people less anxious, noting discrimination happens in a variety of settings.

"There are so many different accommodations that people just don't think about," Williams observed. "You know, being served at a restaurant, or going to a homeless shelter."

The federal bill faces an uncertain future in the U.S. Senate.

At the state level, Williams' group is among those that oppose a plan to block transgender women and girls from playing on sports teams matching their gender identity. It's the latest in a series of measures to surface in South Dakota and other states.

Supporters of the bills cite the need for fair competition among athletes, as well as religious-freedom protections.

The legislation, seen as hostile to LGBTQ people, is largely driven by far-right groups.

Williams noted it's disappointing to see it show up in South Dakota, which has a history of touting a message of personal freedoms.

"I definitely think it's an issue when there are people from outside the state that are coming in and telling us what we should be doing," Williams contended.

She sees the transgender sports bill as especially troubling, with the potential to create long-term emotional harm for transgender young people.

In her view, the association governing high-school sports already has an effective policy.

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