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South Dakota

South Dakota Legislature passes first anti-Trans bill of 2022

85% of transgender and nonbinary youth say that recent debates around anti-trans bills have negatively impacted their mental health

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South Dakota State Capitol (Photo Credit: State of South Dakota)

PIERRE – The South Dakota House of Representatives passed two anti-Transgender bills Tuesday. HB 1005, which would restrict Trans students from using bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity, and SB 46, which would restrict Trans women and girls from playing on school sports teams that match their gender identity.

HB 1005 is now headed to the South Dakota Senate and SB 46 is headed to Republican Governor Kristi Noem’s desk, where it is expected to be signed into law and become the first anti-Trans bill enacted in 2022 by a state.

Senate Bill 46 was authored and submitted to the legislature by Noem. The hasty passage of this bill comes after a historically bad 2021 session that saw a record number of anti-Trans bills introduced and passed across the country. Last month, South Dakotans gathered for six concurrent rallies across the state in protest of this legislation and other anti-transgender bills introduced this year.

In 2021, after issuing a style-and-form veto of an anti-trans sports ban bill, Noem issued two executive orders that effectively implemented the policy articulated in the vetoed legislation.

“The votes today by House lawmakers are shameful,” said Jett Jonelis, ACLU of South Dakota advocacy manager. “Senate Bill 46 and House Bill 1005 reinforce the incorrect notion that transgender students are not entitled to the same dignity and respect as all students.”

On Senate Bill 46: 

“Senate Bill 46 not only discriminates against trans women and girls in ways that compromise their health, social and emotional development, and safety, but also it violates federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection,” Jonelis said. “It perpetuates harmful myths about transgender people and reduces trans students to political pawns. Our lawmakers should be focused on protecting South Dakota’s youth by creating safe and welcoming environments rather than launching baseless attacks to score political points.”

On House Bill 1005:

“Transgender people, whether people know it or not, are already using the bathrooms and communal facilities they have a right to – and doing so without incident,” Jonelis said. “If House Bill 1005 is enacted, transgender people will have to make the impossible decision of breaking the law or revealing their private medical information – not to mention the obvious risk of harassment and violence that comes with forcing transgender people into the facilitates that do not match their gender identity. It is quite clear whose privacy and very lives are really at risk if our legislators continue to succumb to anti-trans fear and hatred and give it state sanction like this.” 

“This early on in 2022, a year when we as a nation are facing unprecedented obstacles, it’s as heartbreaking as it is infuriating to see South Dakota lawmakers put such effort into attacking transgender youth. Bills like these are unnecessary and cruel, and we know the ugly rhetoric surrounding them is having a real impact on the mental health and wellbeing of one of our most marginalized groups of young people,” said Sam Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that transgender and nonbinary youth who reported experiencing discrimination based on their gender identity over something as basic as using the bathroom had nearly double the odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not. Lawmakers should be focusing on the real issues facing these young people and fostering spaces where everyone can be safe, not making life harder than it already is for the transgender and nonbinary youth of South Dakota.”

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South Dakota

South Dakota enacts bill that would censor so-called ‘divisive concepts’

This is the second anti-LGBTQ+ bill signed by Gov. Noem this year. She signed SB 46, an anti-trans sports ban in February

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State Sen. Troy Heinert (D), right, who opposed HB 1012 (Shown here with a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in 2016 - Photo Heinert/Facebook)

PIERRE – South Dakota Republican Governor Kristi Noem signed House Bill 1012 Wednesday, titled ‘An Act to protect students and employees at institutions of higher education from divisive concepts’, that she authored and submitted to the state’s legislature.

Critics charge that HB 1012 sanitizes information and truth in school curriculums and does not equip students with the critical thinking skills needed to succeed. The bill forces self-censorship with educators and is an effort to erase and marginalize Indigenous history, LGBTQ+ education, and other oppressed voices in and outside of the classroom.

In a statement released by her office the governor alleges that the legislation prohibits colleges from requiring students and teachers to attend trainings or orientations based on Critical Race Theory.

“No student or teacher should have to endorse Critical Race Theory in order to attend, graduate from, or teach at our public universities,” said Noem. “College should remain a place where freedom of thought and expression are encouraged, not stifled by political agendas.”

A source with the faculty at South Dakota State University, speaking on background, told the Blade Wednesday that the legislation is weaponized to silence minority voices, especially LGBTQ+ people and Native Americans.

“By passing and then signing this onerous partisan bill, Noem just ensured that the only voices in the room will be White, Christian, and opposed to having students being able to think for themselves,” the source said. “Conceivably the massacre at Wounded Knee will be sanitized and categorized as a necessary ‘treaty enforcement’ by the U.S. Army. This bill will lead to revisionism created by an atmosphere of fear where my colleagues would be reluctant to put their employment in jeopardy if they dared to tell the truth.”

“There’s also the fact that issues around same-sex marriage- but acutely Transgender people and the treatment they receive plus the fact that there is an active effort to erase their existence means any rational classroom discussion or lectures would not occur so as to- god forbid, not offend the so-called conservatives under the definition of ‘ divisive concepts’. This is ridiculous but shows people outside of our state the mendacity of Noem and her supporters,” the source added.

In a powerful moment during the committee hearing on HB 1012, State Sen. Troy Heinert, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, shared how the bill would keep educators from teaching about his people’s history.

“I do not blame any member of this committee for what happened or the plight of the American Indian. I know it is not your fault, but I do expect you to understand it and be empathetic as to some of the conditions that we currently live in right now,” he said. “Let teachers teach. Let people understand the true history of our state, our country. We don’t have to make them feel bad. That’s not anybody’s intention. But if you don’t understand you’re bound to repeat it,” Sen. Heinert said.

Journalist Christopher Vondracek writing for the Forum News Service published in the Republic newspaper in Mitchell, South Dakota noted; The text of the bill, which was heavily edited by the state Legislature, doesn’t mention the words “critical race theory” anywhere in its final form. After the measure passed the House of Representatives last month , the chamber approved a title change to accurately reflect the bill’s impact.

companion bill that would have more directly affected teaching in the K-12 environment failed by a vote in the Senate Education committee.

In a statement to Forum News Service, South Dakota Democratic Party Executive Director Berk Ehrmantraut said the state should be investing in higher education, not “attacking educators.”

“Educators should not be forced by politicians to teach lessons that edit or remove parts of our country’s history. Students deserve the freedom to learn: to develop the knowledge and skills to reckon with our past and change our nation for the better,” Human Rights Campaign State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel Cathryn Oakley said.

“But Gov. Noem and South Dakota legislators want to censor the truth and pass laws that ban students from learning about marginalized people, including the LGBTQ+ community. Students in South Dakota deserve to have a safe, high-quality education that teaches honesty, integrity, and the courage to do what’s right. Shame on Gov. Noem,” Oakley added.

This is the second anti-LGBTQ+ bill signed by Gov. Noem this year. She signed SB 46, an anti-trans sports ban in February, becoming the first governor to sign discriminatory anti-transgender legislation into law in 2022. The bill bans trans youth from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity and was authored and submitted to the legislature by the governor.

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South Dakota

South Dakota lawmakers send ‘divisive concepts’ ban to governor

Restricts the promotion of “divisive concepts” relating to race, gender and sex at state colleges and universities

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trans youth, gay news, Washington Blade
South Dakota State Capitol Building (Photo credit: State of South Dakota)

PIERRE – A South Dakota bill heavily restricting the promotion of “divisive concepts” relating to race, gender and sex at state colleges and universities cleared the legislature Monday, now heading to the desk of Republican Gov. Kristi Noem.

As the Florida Senate sent its widely criticized “Don’t Say Gay” bill to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis Tuesday, South Dakota sent its own legislation restricting education to Noem. The Senate voted 27-8 on H.B. 1012 Monday, but amendments added by the upper chamber forced it to be approved again by the House. Noem, who helped draft the measure, is likely to sign it.

Unlike Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, South Dakota’s “divisive concepts” legislation targets higher education, not K-12 schools. It also aims at race, gender and sex – including the GOP hot button issue of so-called Critical Race Theory (CRT) – while Florida’s measure bans classroom discussions on gender identity and sexual orientation that isn’t “age appropiate.”

College courses would not be restricted under the bill, meaning professors could still teach any subject matter. But schools cannot “direct or compel” students or faculty to attend or participate in any training or orientation that promotes “divisive concepts.”

“Divisive concepts” include making individuals think they are “inherently responsible” for historical actions or feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race, color, religion, ethnicity, or national origin.”

Noem has positioned herself as conservative who is staunchly against CRT and certain LGBTQ+ rights. Last month, Noem signed an anti-Trans sports bill, the first to gain approval from a governor in 2022. She was also criticized for saying she didn’t know why LGBTQ+ people in South Dakota reported high rates of anxiety or depression, while pushing for anti-LGBTQ+ bills. 

The measure gained broad support from Republicans, but some did raise concerns it would limit First Amendment rights on college campuses. 

“I cannot support the idea that state government should create a list of ideas, write them into statute, and call them divisive,” said Republican Sen. David Wheeler on the floor. “It’s incredibly difficult to legislate effectively on broad concepts.”

But other Republicans argued that the bill wouldn’t limit rights on campuses. “They can take Intro to Critical Race Theory. They can have spirited debates,” said Republican Sen. Jessica Castleberry, who presented the measure to the Senate. “This preserves institutional neutrality by preventing critical race theory and divisive concepts from being adopted at the institutional level.”

A GOP-led committee rejected a similar “divisive concepts” bill aimed at teaching in K-12 schools.

LGBTQ+ and social justice organizations decried the passage of the legislation, with one group calling it “chilling.”

“Our country needs to acknowledge and reckon with its history of systemic racism — this includes being able to teach and talk about these concepts in our schools,” said Jett Jonelis, ACLU of South Dakota advocacy manager, in a statement

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ rights organization, warned in a news release that the bill would “erase and marginalize Indigenous history, LGBTQ+ education, and other oppressed voices in and outside of the classroom.”

“Students should be taught an honest and accurate history of our nation, including the good and the bad,” said Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel for the HRC, adding: “Teaching young adults the full scope of reality for LGBTQ+ and other marginalized people, both historically and today, we can help build a fully realized society where everyone can take pride in their individual identities.”

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South Dakota

GOP governor who signed anti-trans law: No clue LGBTQ+ people are sad

At 87%, South Dakota had the highest rate of LGBTQ+ residents reporting those mental health conditions, compared to 63% nationally

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South Dakota Republican Governor Kristi Noem (Screenshot via YouTube)

PIERRE – During her weekly press conference Thursday, South Dakota Republican Governor Kristi Noem was asked by a reporter her opinion of the fact that nearly 90% of the LGBTQ+ community in South Dakota reported dealing with anxiety or depression.

“I don’t know,” Noem responded. “That makes me sad, and we should figure it out.”

Critics were quick to point out that the governor’s answer was disingenuous since she had helped draft, pass, and then sign into law SB 46, which bans trans youth from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity. With her signature, she became the first governor to sign discriminatory anti-transgender legislation into law in 2022.

One high profile opposition response came in the form of a Tweet from Principal White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who wrote: “Here’s a start for you, Governor. 1. Don’t advance policies that attack trans youth, 2. Don’t fund ads attacking LGBT youth, 3. support @POTUS’ agenda to enhance support for youth mental health needs, with funding made available through the American Rescue Plan.”

The question to the governor was attributed to a recent report by HelpAdvisor, a health and health care coverage assistance site, that analyzed rates of anxiety and depression among LGBTQ+ people across the United States. At 87%, South Dakota had the highest rate of LGBTQ+ residents reporting those mental health conditions, compared to 63% nationally.

According to The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth. However, LGBTQ youth who had access to spaces that affirmed their sexual orientation and gender identity — including schools — reported lower rates of attempting suicide than those who did not.

A recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project found that 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth—and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66%) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health. When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56% of transgender and nonbinary youth said it made them feel angry, 47% felt nervous and/or scared, 45% felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

Gov. Noem Gives Legislative Update 2-17-2022

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South Dakota

South Dakota Governor signs first anti-Trans bill of 2022 into law

“SB 46 attempts to solve a problem that doesn’t exist- slamming the door shut for Trans student athletes to fully participate”

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Republican Governor of South Dakota Kristi Noem (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

PIERRE – The Republican Governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem signed Senate Bill 46 into law Thursday effectively keeping Trans students, especially Trans women and girls, from playing on women’s and girls sports teams which would affirm their gender identity. 

The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ+) young people, condemned Noem for signing what the organization is listing as the first anti-transgender bill of the year into law in the nation.

“At a time when young people are facing an unprecedented need for support, it is devastating to see politicians instead invent new ways to exclude them,” said Sam Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. “We want to remind every young trans person watching tonight that there are more people fighting for you than against you. We have your back, and we will continue working with our partners and advocates on the ground to challenge these laws and ensure that all youth have the support they need to survive and thrive.”

The Argus Leader, the daily newspaper of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, reported that opponents of this legislation say it’s likely to bring a lawsuit. The text of the bill states that any student suffering direct or indirect harm as a result of a violation of the bill can sue the district or university; the state attorney general will represent the school, district or college that’s sued.

SB 46 was first heard in the Senate State Affairs committee last month, where it passed on an 8-1 vote. The sole dissenter was Sen. Troy Heinert, who said it would send a message that trans children aren’t welcome in the state, the Argus Leader also noted.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66%) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about new policies that would ban transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams and transgender boys from playing on boys’ sports teams, 74% of transgender and nonbinary youth said it made them feel angry, 57% felt sad, 43% felt stressed, and nearly 1 in 3 felt scared.

When the bill was being considered in the House State Affairs committee, it passed on an 11-2 vote, but not without arguments from Noem’s general counsel and chief of staff Mark Miller who said transgender peoples’ participation in sports is akin to terrorism.

“Senate Bill 46 attempts to solve a problem that does not exist while slamming the door shut for transgender student athletes to fully participate in their school communities,” said Jett Jonelis, ACLU of South Dakota advocacy manager. “Transgender students participate in sports for the same reasons other young people do: to challenge themselves, to stay fit and healthy and to be a part of a team. Trans students’ humanity, dignity, and ability to be full members of their school communities should never be up for debate like this.”

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South Dakota

South Dakota House committee approves anti-Trans youth athlete ban

The measure now moves to the full House for a vote- as the Senate already approved it will then head to Governor Noem for her signature

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South Dakota State Capitol Building (Photo by Michelle Dennis)

PIERRE – The Republican-majority House State Affairs committee voted to approve a measure from Republican Governor Kristi Noem that would ban Trans girls from competing in school sports leagues in South Dakota matching their gender identity.

The measure now moves to the full House for a vote and then, as the Senate had already approved the measure last week, it will head to Governor Noem for her signature. The governor had lobbied hard for the measure to be passed, which has Trans South Dakotan youth speaking out.

“Transgender girls like me want to play sports,” Hoera Kingi, a high school senior who has competed on her school’s cheerleading team told the Associated Press, adding that a ban on her competing as a girl “would have stopped me from meeting some of my favorite people and making some of my most cherished memories.”

Trans allies and parents have labeled the measure bullying. After passage in the Senate, Human Rights Campaign State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel Cathryn Oakley dcried the bill:

“South Dakota’s legislature has been an innovator in discrimination against transgender people, and SB 46 continues this shameful legacy by being the very first anti-trans bill passed by a legislative chamber this year. The South Dakota legislature has been rehashing the same conversation about trans youth participation in school sports for years and yet there still is no evidence that transgender youth participating in school sports has posed an actual problem. These bills don’t protect or empower girls and women – rather, they perpetuate sexist stereotypes and try to turn teammates against each other. It is time for South Dakota to let kids be kids.”

Organizations representing the state’s public schools have also voiced opposition to the bill, arguing that the high school activities association already has an effective policy that evaluates applications from transgender athletes on a case-by-case basis. School groups warned the bill, if enacted, would put them at odds with federal law, exposing them to the potential of lawsuits, a federal civil rights investigation or possibly a loss of federal funding, the Associated Press noted.

Noem’s chief of staff, Mark Miller, defended the legality of the proposal and pointed to instances when trans athletes in other states have given dominant performances.

“It’s sort of like terrorism, you want to keep it over there, not let it get over here,” he said when a Democratic lawmaker questioned why the governor was taking up the issue when it has not stirred controversy in South Dakota sports.

Democratic State Representative Jamie Smith called Miller’s comparison “absolutely disgusting.”

“Despite its title, this bill has nothing to do with fairness — and everything to do with South Dakota politicians using transgender youth as pawns on a political chessboard,” said Sam Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. “Proponents of this blanket ban are hard-pressed to find examples of transgender students making South Dakota sports less fair or safe. Research from The Trevor Project makes clear that many already opt out of sports due to fear of bullying and discrimination.”

Legislators in a record 34 states introduced 147 anti-transgender bills in 2021, focusing on discriminatory anti-equality measures to drive a wedge between their constituents and score short-term political points. In 2021, twelve states enacted anti-LGBTQ+ bills despite failing to provide examples of what exactly they’re legislating against.

A poll conducted by the Human Rights Campaign & Hart Research Group revealed that, with respect to transgender youth participation in sports, the public’s strong inclination is on the side of fairness and equality for transgender student athletes. 73% of voters agree that “sports are important in young people’s lives. Young transgender people should be allowed opportunities to participate in a way that is safe and comfortable for them.”

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South Dakota

South Dakota Senate committee advances anti-Trans youth sports bill

“Every child deserves to be lifted up and supported by their leaders and their government, not targeted and dehumanized”

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Republican Governor Kristi Noem, South Dakota (Blade file photo)

PIERRE – The South Dakota Senate State Affairs Committee voted to advance Senate Bill 46, legislation that would ban transgender women and girls from competing on the sports teams that match their gender identity. 

Noem’s bill, S.B. 46, is one of three anti-trans that South Dakota has introduced in early 2022 – coming off a year that saw unprecedented legislative attacks on the trans community, especially in sports. 

In a press release, Noem alluded to her anti-trans sports bill working similarly to Texas’ ban on abortions after six weeks, which attempts to circumvent the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade by allowing citizens to enforce the law with lawsuits. 

“The legislation I am proposing includes the ability for a parent to hold schools accountable in court,” she said. “Parents will be able to sue to play, not to pay.”

It is still unclear if the tactic will be able to successfully evade courts striking down the law. The Supreme Court refused to block Texas’ abortion ban but did say that abortion providers have the right to sue.

At the end of last year, Noem introduced a bill that would have codified two of her anti-trans executive orders – one focusing on K-12 schools and the other taking aim at college sports. 

She wrote the orders shortly after vetoing an anti-trans sports bill from the state legislature, fearing the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCCA) would take the state to court over the bill. Otherwise, Noem praised the proposal, even saying she was “excited to sign” it before changing her position.

The South Dakota High School Activities Association still allows trans student-athletes to compete. In addition, the NCAA supports trans people participating in sports.

“Senate Bill 46 attempts to solve a problem that does not exist while slamming the door shut for transgender student athletes to fully participate in their school communities,” said Jett Jonelis, ACLU of South Dakota advocacy manager. “Transgender students participate in sports for the same reasons other young people do: to challenge themselves, to stay fit and healthy and to be a part of a team. Trans students’ humanity, dignity, and ability to be full members of their school communities should never be up for debate like this.”

Senate Bill 46, which was introduced on behalf of Republican Governor Kristi Noem, is intended to inflame a political reaction, not protect fairness in women’s sports the ACLU and LGBTQ+ activists contend. The state has not seen any issues with transgender women or girls competing in sports. The South Dakota High School Activities Association already has a policy in place for transgender athletes. Likewise, the NCAA also has clear policies on the inclusion of transgender student-athletes and their participation in intercollegiate athletics. 

“If Gov. Noem really wanted to protect fairness in women’s sports, she would tackle the actual threats to women’s sports such as severe underfunding, lack of media coverage, sexist ideologies that suggest that women and girls are weak, and pay equity for coaches,” Jonelis said. “It’s obvious that this discriminatory legislation is about solving problems that don’t exist.”

On Thursday in advance of the committee’s vote, Governor Noem released nationally televised 30 second ad that while not directly using the lexicon in referring to the Trans community, she claims that she wants to protect girls’ and women’s sports.

The advert commences with: “In South Dakota, only girls play girls’ sports. Why? Because of Gov. Kristi Noem’s leadership. Noem has been protecting girls’ sports for years and never backed down.”

National advocacy groups were quick to respond to the governor’s ad and Senate Bill 46.

“Fairness should never mean exclusion. We can promote girls’ sports and transgender inclusion at the same time. Blanket bans that block transgender students from participating in school sports remain unfair and unnecessary,” Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, said in a press release. “A recent poll by the Trevor Project found that 85 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth said recent debates around anti-trans bills have negatively impacted their mental health — and nearly 1 in 3 feels scared.”

 “This ad is not just discriminatory, it erases transgender people and dehumanizes them, putting a target on the back of an already vulnerable community,” said Joni Madison, interim president of the Human Rights Campaign. “Doing so on a national stage — in a brazen attempt to score political points with her base — makes these attacks especially egregious. In fact, it’s South Dakota’s women and girls that Governor Noem is attacking.

“Prohibiting transgender girls from participating in school athletics alongside their peers is a radical political talking point — one that Noem is using to advance her national political ambitions, but which does not serve South Dakota’s best interests. At stake is the safety of transgender young people, who are facing increased discrimination in their communities, last year leading to the highest incidence of fatal violence against transgender and gender-nonbinary people on record. Noem’s ad resorts to attacking children in service of a divisive and discriminatory political agenda.

“Every child deserves to be lifted up and supported by their leaders and their government, not targeted and dehumanized. Legislators must reject this divisive bill to avoid tarnishing South Dakota’s reputation and hurting kids in service of Governor Noem’s selfish political gamesmanship.”

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