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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

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

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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