I recently wrote a poem in which I discussed the, um, dissonance between my liberal politics and the decidedly – heck, aggressively – un-liberal politics of South Dakota, my home for the past two years. I end the poem by saying something to the effect of, “I may be fluid and dynamic, but it’s you who will change thanks to me, South Dakota.”
I’m not a big believer in predestination or Big Plan stuff, but I figure there has to be some reason I’m in this super conservative state, right? Maybe it’s to hold the hand of beleaguered local liberals and tuck baby progressive activists under my wing; after all, I’ve been an activist for half my life. This Lefty was born and raised in Idaho, another uber-red state. Heck, if there was a progressive cause in Boise during the 90s, I was in on it. Once I moved to California in 2001, I immersed myself in fat politics, which was handy, since my dissertation is all about fat discrimination. I left the rallying and marching to my more spry sisters and brothers. Now that I’ve retreated from the blue-tinged margins of the U.S., I find myself back in the trenches, marching, rallying, protesting, writing letters, and just generally fighting the good fight Every. Single. Day.
I didn’t really envision this. I figured I would lead a quiet South Dakota life, happily hanging with my local Equality Center, volunteering ever-so-often with the local women’s shelter. Then, section 3 of DOMA got itself cut and California’s Prop 8 died an unlamented death and all of a sudden, equal rights became the talk of everyone’s town. South Dakota legislators, terrified the rainbow surge would flood their homes and turn everyone into Pride-flag waving lesbians and gay men who actually have sex outside of dirty bathroom stalls, introduced a couple of bills to remind everyone who’s at the top of the sexual food chain. One bill has already died, thank goodness, but one still lives, breathes, and discriminates. Below is a summary of South Dakota Senate Bill 128:
1. It’s fine to verbally express disgust and hatred of LGBT folks as long as the language doesn’t incite physical violence;
2. Businesses who want to fire or not hire LGBT employees may do so; and
3. Any LGBT person who experiences one of the first two items may not bring a case against the person who verbally harassed or fired/did not hire them.
Let’s break this down, shall we? The first time items are pointless, since the First Amendment ensures free speech for anyone whose words don’t incite violence, whereupon it becomes hate speech. Also, since LGBT peeps have no protections in South Dakota, the second item is redundant. I’m not a lawyer and can’t tell you what the third one means, whether it’s a pretty big deal or just reiterating what’s already on the books. (Maybe my sister, a human rights lawyer, can enlighten us. Thanks, LJ.) Suffice to say, none of this is groundbreaking.
This is what I know for sure about SB 128: It’s a big “Eff you” to all queer folks in the state. As it stands now, without the Great Straight Hope of SB 128, South Dakota citizens can get their verbal hate on and fire members of lots of groups, -- fatties, “ugly” peeps, older or younger folks, little people, felons, veterans, dog groomers -- but it’s only LGBT ones that lawmakers have singled out in this bill. South Dakota Republicans, those fierce proponents of fiscal responsibility, are spending my tax dollars to draft a bill reminding us that queer folks are extra-super-duper undeserving of any protections. These legislators, two of whom are my very own state representatives (Hi, Representatives Kopp and Campbell!), want to make triply sure we all know it’s okay to hate queer folks… as long as we don’t beat them with sticks.
I’m faculty advisor to a GSA (gay/straight alliance) at my school, and I volunteer with the local Equality Center. I’m also attending every rally and meeting I can to kill this bill. If any South Dakotan wants to join me, I’ll be attending a rally on February 17 at 5 pm. My GSA will be drafting signs for the rally on February 15. Wish us luck, and if you want to contact any of the state legislators who publicly support this bill, I bow to you and offer you a handy chart (above) with contact info and ways to determine your own state legislators.
May the rainbow force be with us.