Brookings joins statewide Protect Trans Kids rally


Brina Sturm and Jordan Rusche

Saturday, Jan. 15 and Sunday, Jan. 16, the South Dakota Transformation Project teamed with Uniting Resilience, Sioux Falls Pride, GSAs of SD, Black Hills Equality, Yak, Watertown Love and sponsors to conduct a statewide demonstration in protest of anti-trans legislation SB 46.

Six concurrent rallies in Pierre, Rapid City, Brookings, Sioux Falls, Vermillion and Watertown were expected to be held that Saturday. However, due to weather, all east river rallies were rescheduled to the following Sunday, with the exception of Watertown, which was postponed until later this month.

Senate Bill 46, introduced by the State Affairs Committee at the request of the Office of the Governor, states that “Any . . . sport or athletic event that is … under the control of either the Board of Regents or the Board of Technical Education must be designated as one of the following, based on the biological sex at birth of the participating athletes: (1) Females, women or girls; (2) Males, men or boys; (3) Coeducational or mixed.” 

The proposed bill goes on to state that, “Only female athletes, based on their biological sex, may participate in any team, sport or athletic event designated as being for females, women or girls.”

Sunday, Jan. 16, transgender students, parents and supporters braved the cold weather and lined up along 6th street. Some held signs while others raised flags. Passing cars honked in support while others revved their engines and sped by.

“What’s happening here is a statewide rally that’s been organized by a coalition of organizations that are working against these anti-trans bills. To organize it, we worked on getting the word out,” Lawrence Novotny, the LGBTQ Liaison for the Human Rights Commission of Brookings, said.

Michele Dudash, head of the Department of Natural Resource Management, showed her support at the rally.

“I think that everyone should be treated equally … and if we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies, we should figure out how we can feel comfortable, because we’re all worthy and should be valued,” she said.

“Once (SB 46) goes through, it’s going to be affecting transgender students that we have here in this state,” Novotny said. “Every time during these legislative sessions, transgender students and supporters become very nervous. They know these bills are attacking them and affecting them directly. I know many [of the supporters] that said they’re not active on social media at the moment. They don’t want to see all the negative comments that are coming out right now. And you have to assess the future — when these kids become of age or when they leave high school. This is not a state they will want to hang around — an unsupportive state like this. If they really want to focus on fitness and sports, they’re doing it the wrong way.”

Alex Traeger, a middle schooler at George S. Mickelson Middle School, was in attendance at the Brookings trans rally, and said they helped start a pride group at their school to foster acceptance among their peers.

“I want to show to, especially this younger audience of trans kids, that it’s important to have pride, that it’s okay to have pride and that you’re allowed to [have pride],” they said. “I really do want to show that you have love and support here, because I feel that it is really important to find yourself.”

Senate Bill 46 Passes

Just days after the statewide rallies took place, SB 46 passed.

Wednesday, Jan. 19, marked South Dakota becoming the first chamber in 2022 to pass an anti-trans bill. The vote was 26-7 in support of the bill.

Human Rights Campaign State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel Cathryn Oakley issued the following statement in reaction to last week’s vote: 

“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 tran,sgender 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.”