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Report Shows LGBT Students Face Descrimination In SD Schools

Kealey Bultena

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender students in South Dakota say they encounter discrimination in school. Their stories are part of a document released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch.

The 103-page report indicates students in South Dakota are bullied, harassed, and threatened because they’re LGBT. It includes stories that some schools and teachers treat LGBT kids – and staff – differently.  

Ryan Thoreson with Human Rights Watch says these issues often arise when state legislators consider laws that affect people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Thoreson says South Dakota lawmakers have the potential to improve the situation for LGBT kids or make it worse.

"They are afraid to identify themselves, because it's such a hostile environment." Danielle Wilcox

“South Dakota is one of the only two states in the country that has a state bullying law that says that local school districts can’t enumerate protected classes in their bullying policies,” Thoreson says. “So there may be school districts in the state of South Dakota that want to say, you know, ‘You can’t bully on the basis on sexual orientation and gender identity,’ but can’t do so under state law.”

Thoreson says the report shows bias LGBT kids encounter in regular life.

Advocates want South Dakota leaders to consider the report that shows students face discrimination. Libby Skarin with the ACLU in South Dakota says lawmakers should read the stories in their home state’s schools.

Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB
Danielle Wilcox with the Center for Equality in SD speaks as Human Rights Watch's Ryan Thoreson and ACLU of SD's Libby Skarin listen. / Dec. 7, 2016

"Stories like the one told by Julian, a 15-year-old transgender boy who was threatened with rape by a classmate, or Silas, a transgender high school student who was told by a fellow student that he should kill himself, or Annette, an administrator at a residential school in South Dakota who can recall incidents wherein, after parents discovered that their students were LGBT, these students were either kicked out of their homes or physically beaten by their parents," Skarin says.

Human Rights Watch researchers talked to more than 500 people in five states – including South Dakota.

Danielle Wilcox with the Center for Equality in Sioux Falls says advocates don’t know the extent of LGBT issues in South Dakota because people are scared.

"Our biggest roadblock, I think, trying to find this information out is these kids and families, they are afraid to identify themselves, because it’s such a hostile environment – both in like school, I mean, legislative attacks," Wilcox says.

Wilcox says LGBT families face discrimination that has consequences. She says two transgender South Dakotans committed suicide last month; Wilcox says one was a youth.

Learn about the study and what it reveals about LGBT students in South Dakota Thursday on Dakota Midday. That’s at 12 p.m. central/11 a.m. mountain time on SDPB Radio. You can also read the full report online at this link.

Kealey Bultena grew up in South Dakota, where her grandparents took advantage of the state’s agriculture at nap time, tricking her into car rides to “go see cows.” Rarely did she stay awake long enough to see the livestock, but now she writes stories about the animals – and the legislature and education and much more. Kealey worked in television for four years while attending the University of South Dakota. She started interning with South Dakota Public Broadcasting in September 2010 and accepted a position with television in 2011. Now Kealey is the radio news producer stationed in Sioux Falls. As a multi-media journalist, Kealey prides herself on the diversity of the stories she tells and the impact her work has on people across the state. Kealey is always searching for new ideas. Let her know of a great story! Find her on Facebook and twitter (@KealeySDPB).
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