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South Dakota
A series of anti-LGBT bills are working their way through the South Dakota Legislature. Religious right groups have descended on the state to beef up support for the bills, while Republican lawmakers make controversial anti-LGBT statements to constituents.

The Human Rights Campaign has a run down of the bills:

“Fairness and equality are under attack in South Dakota,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “Both of these pieces of legislation shamefully passed today by the House State Affairs committee are dangerously far-reaching and would have severe consequences, not just for LGBT South Dakotans and their families, but for the entire Mount Rushmore State. Fair-minded people across the state must stand up and demand their lawmakers stop these extreme, discriminatory measures.”
HB 1107 would explicitly authorize recipients of taxpayer funds or other state recognition to discriminate against same-sex couples, transgender people, and single mothers.
HB 1112 would directly override the authority of the South Dakota High School Activities Association and make any “transgender policy” adopted by the Association subject to consent of the Legislature. It also declares void the existing policy adopted by the Association, which allows transgender students to participate in athletic activities consistent with their gender identity.
HB 1112 is the second piece of legislation moving forward in South Dakota that specifically targets transgender students. Last week by a vote of 58 to 10, the South Dakota House of Representatives passed HB 1008 – extreme legislation seeking to prevent transgender students in public schools from using sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity and putting state law in direct conflict with the U.S. Department of Education. Putting South Dakota school districts at risk of losing federal funds under Title IX, the discriminatory HB 1008 would force public schools to pay the costs of legal challenges and force them into an untenable position of choosing between state and federal law. It would also tie the hands of school administrators and teachers who would no longer have the flexibility they need to find workable solutions in coordination with transgender students and their parents.

Think Progress takes a look at the anti-LGBT groups that are pushing the bills forward:

The progress these bills are making can be attributed to the time and attention being paid to South Dakota by prominent conservative groups. The Heritage Foundation boasted Tuesday, “this state could soon become first to stop transgender students from using opposite-sex bathrooms.” On hand to testify Wednesday morning was the Family Heritage Alliance (FHA), the South Dakotastate affiliate of the anti-LGBT Family Research Council.
But the group with its fingerprints most on this legislation is the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The conservative legal juggernaut insists on its website that it “refrains from participating in or promoting any type of legislation” and “does not lobby government officials,” but that claim doesn’t seem to align with its level of engagement in South Dakota. Indeed, ADF and its legal counsel Matt Sharp seem to be thoroughly involved in crafting and defending the legislation.

The “Religious Protection” bill passed a key House committee on Wednesday, the Associated Press reports:

The House State Affairs committee approved the measure Wednesday. It heads to the full House.
Republican Rep. Scott Craig says a person or organization shouldn’t face repercussions from the government for actions based on beliefs that marriage should only be between a man and a woman or that that sex is determined by anatomy at birth.
But the proposal would not protect government employees while they are at work.
The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota opposed the measure. Policy Director Libby Skarin says the measure could open the door to taxpayer-funded discrimination against LGBT people.

The Argus Leader took an in-depth look at the anti-transgender bill poised to pass in the next few weeks:

The South Dakota Legislature is poised to take the lead nationally when it comes to changing laws dealing with transgender residents.
A handful of proposals would restrict the rights of transgender people and enhance the protections for those who refuse to recognize that choice. That discussion has attracted the attention of national civil rights and LGBT groups, who are now on the offensive and have shifted their attention and forces to Pierre for a battle over transgender rights.

Argus Leader columnist Stu Whitney gave a negative review of South Dakota lawmakers’ efforts to pass anti-LGBT legislation:

It isn’t a fundamental right to be proud of the place in which you live, but it can lead to brighter days.
Based on recent activity in the South Dakota Legislature, where bills infringing on civil rights are springing forth with alarming frequency and drawing early support, darkness is setting in.
Despite a national trend of greater acceptance for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) citizens and their constitutional right to equal protection under the law, South Dakota has become a focal point of resistance, with discrimination as a rallying cry.
The transgender community is the most targeted, with proposed legislation aiming to prevent them from using school restrooms aligned with their gender identity, participating in interscholastic sports in relation to that identity and from having that identity recognized by government agencies.

Bart Pfankuch, a columnist at the Rapid City Journal, criticized South Dakota lawmakers’ efforts to allow discrimination against same-sex couples:

Loser — Married gay people
Whether lawmakers like it or not, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 made gay marriage legal in America. The highest court in the land made it clear that marriage is a man-made legal concept that cannot be denied to anyone.
And yet, here we go again with measures that some conservative lawmakers have put forward in the past, and again this year, that opponents say essentially legalize discrimination against gay people. Last year, a measure was floated, and eventually killed, that would have given protection against lawsuits to people who deny services to gay people or those in same-sex marriages.
This year, in a measure put forward by Rapid City pastor Scott Craig, the attempt to ding married gay people is more subtle, but no less troubling to opponents. Craig’s bill would prevent state government from removing any public funding or tax-exempt status from any group or individual that acts upon their opposition to gay marriage.
Like abortion, gay marriage is now the law of the land in the U.S. But it appears clear that attempts to chip away at those legal rights will continue in the South Dakota Legislature — who knows for how long?

A South Dakota Republican lawmaker lashed out at the state’s transgender community at a constituent meeting over the weekend. The Argus Leader published video of the encounter:

A South Dakota lawmaker said transgender people are “twisted” and need psychological help.

State Sen. David Omdahl, R-Sioux Falls, told constituents at a legislative coffee event Saturday morning that he planned to vote for a bill that would bar transgender students from using bathrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities of the gender with which they identify if they don’t correspond with their biological sex.

“I’m sorry if you’re so twisted you don’t even know who you are,” Omdahl said of transgender individuals.

The audience in attendance gasped and a moderator asked that they remain quiet so Omdahl could continue.

The Republican lawmaker went on to say that some transgender people should seek psychological help because he doesn’t believe someone can possess a gender identity that’s inconsistent with his or her biological sex. (Watch the comments in the video above).

“They’re treating the wrong part of the anatomy. They ought to be treating it up here,” Omdahl said pointing to his forehead.

The Argus Leader took look at the Center for Equality and the work it does in South Dakota:

It wasn’t until Ashley Joubert-Gaddis helped her 6-year-old daughter, Parker, into her flower girl dress that the kindergartner realized that she was about to be part of something special — a same-sex wedding.
Joubert-Gaddis hopes others can get to be as comfortable with similar relationships.
“Parker doesn’t think anything of it when she sees gay people show affection to one another. I want to help normalize being gay so that when a gay couple walks down a Sioux Falls sidewalk holding hands, no one looks twice,” says Joubert-Gaddis, who is doing just that as the first employee of the local nonprofit The Center for Equality.
The center is focused on protecting and supporting the rights and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals. Joubert-Gaddis joined the center in November. She and her family had just moved to Sioux Falls from St. Paul, and she was looking for work that would allow her to help others through advocacy.
“I feel it is my responsibility to use my privilege as a straight person to be a voice for the people who are hushed, shunned or forgotten,” she says. “LGBT rights isn’t hush-hush stuff. This is in our face, and it’s real.”
With The Center for Equality, she helps organize events that support the Sioux Falls LGBT community while at the same time providing education and information to the general public. One recent example is a Transgender 101 Q&A where a transgender individual shared his story with community members.

North Dakota
KFYR took a look at the state of municipal LGBT policies:

“I think a lot of people assume with the Supreme Court decision earlier this year that things are fine and where they need to be and while that was a big step cities like Fargo, Grand Forks, Bismarck have taken a step further,” said Matt Elmore, president of Pride Minot.
In late 2015 the Human Rights Campaign released the Municipal Equality Index, a nationwide rating system of LGBT inclusion in municipal law and policy.
North Dakota cities averaged 31 of 100 points below the national average of 56, but some North Dakota cities scored higher. Fargo and Grand Forks were closer to the national average, while Minot and Bismarck scored 20 and 17, respectively. But that doesn’t mean the Magic City is unsupportive.

Iowa
The Human Rights Campaign notes that Iowa Republican Caucus winner Ted Cruz got a lot of help from anti-LGBT conservative Christians:

In Ted Cruz’s victory speech in Iowa he took the time to thank his two national co-chairs: Bob Vander Plaats and Rep. Steve King. They joined Cruz on stage, along with his father, anti-LGBT Reverend Rafael Cruz.
“And to our national co-chairmen, Bob Vander Plaats and Steve King, these men have become dear and trusted friends. They are warriors. They are men of principle,” Cruz said. “They stand and speak the truth. They stand to defend their values and let me tell you, these leaders, day after day, week after week, have been crawling under broken glass with knives between their teeth.”
Just what exactly are the principles Ted Cruz was describing? A few highlights:
Bob Vander Plaats: Vander Plaats — who runs Iowa’s anti-LGBT “Family Leader” said he would ask the next president to ignore the Supreme Court’s ruling that made marriage equality the law of the land. He also led a campaign to recall three Iowa Supreme Court Judges who ruled in favor of marriage equality. And he compared being LGBT to a public health risk, like smoking. “If we’re teaching the kids, ‘don’t smoke, because that’s a risky health style,’ the same can be true of the homosexual lifestyle. That’s why I think we need to speak the truth once in a while.” He also smeared transgender people and falsely suggested they would assault people in restrooms.
Steve King: King, who was inducted into HRC’s “Hall of Shame” of the most anti-equality Members of Congress in 2014, received a zero on HRC’s Congressional Scorecard. He has spent the past decade fighting loving, committed same-sex couples in Iowa and nationwide marriage equality. During consideration of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, King claimed then-Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) had an agenda of protecting pedophiles. And just last year, henotoriously compared marriage equality to marrying a lawnmower.

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Andy Birkey
Andy Birkey has written for a number of Minnesota and national publications. He founded Eleventh Avenue South which ran from 2002-2011, wrote for the Minnesota Independent from 2006-2011, the American Independent from 2010-2013. His writing has appeared in The Advocate, The Star Tribune, The Huffington Post, Salon, Cagle News Service, Twin Cities Daily Planet, TheUptake, Vita.mn and much more. His writing on LGBT issues, the religious right and social justice has won awards including Best Beat Reporting by the Online News Association, Best Series by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an honorable mention by the Sex-Positive Journalism awards.

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