By Alaina Beautiful Bald Eagle, SDDP Columnist
(During the introduction, Louise identified as a nonbinary person and prefers using they/them pronouns. These pronouns are used henceforward in this article.)
SIOUX FALLS, SD (April 24, 2021) Louise Snodgrass was the guest speaker at the Oceti Sakowin Caucus of South Dakota’s weekly speaker series last Tuesday. The caucus invites leaders from various industries and organizations with the goal to bring visibility and support to movements which fall in line with Indigenous and Democratic values.
South Dakota grown, Snodgrass has dedicated their career to public service and advocacy, collaborating with many to shape a more inclusive and progressive future. At age 25, Louise ran for South Dakota State House of Representatives, making history as the first openly nonbinary candidate in the state.
Louise currently administers digital strategy and social media for the Transformation Project and Transformation Project Advocacy Network, organizations whose mission is to support and empower trans youth and their families, as well as educate South Dakota into a more inclusive and supportive space for trans people. The organizations are also dedicated to advocacy in the state legislature and work to create policies that protect and respect trans South Dakotans.
Snodgrass shared how recurrent anti-transgender bills in the state legislature motivated them to run for office.
“In 2016 we saw the anti-trans bathroom bill that passed through the legislature and was vetoed by Dennis Daugaard. We have seen three different versions of this bill which would ostracize trans folks from using bathrooms that affirm their identities. Another bill was passed that allows taxpayer-funded agencies to deny services to queer people,” Louise stated.
The young advocate continued to list other pieces of legislation aimed toward the queer community in South Dakota.
“There was the attempt to restrict health care for trans children. There was also an attempt to allow healthcare providers to refuse care in 2019, which we saw again in 2020. And it didn’t get anywhere, but there was the bill that attempted to recriminalize same sex marriage. There was also a bill to ban drag queens from teaching and reading stories at libraries.”
Recently, Republican legislators have also introduced bills concerning gender dysphoria, which is the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics.
These bills have “attempted to force school counselors to basically ‘out’ children who were experiencing gender dysphoria. Another legislation would bar public school teachers from talking about gender dysphoria altogether,” said Louise.
Such alarming pieces of legislation only hurt trans youth and their mental health. These actions within the state legislature are what prompted the Brookings resident to run for House of Representatives in 2020.
“I was horrified that a state I feel like I want to want to belong in didn’t want me to belong.”
Louise explained that the community of Brookings has policies that are inclusive of LGBTQ+ people and living in that environment encouraged them to “to create positive change for the entire state.”
The meeting with the Oceti Sakowin Caucus was also a time of candid discussion and education about LGBTQ+ issues. Louise explained that when used respectfully, the word “queer” is now an acceptable and respectful way of describing the LGBQT+ community.
“I use the term LGBTQ+ and queer community interchangeably because I, myself, identify as queer. I use the term lovingly and do not use it as a slur.”
The group also discussed the phrase “Two Spirit”, which is an umbrella term that encompasses a number of understandings of gender identity and sexuality among many Indigenous people.
Candi Brings Plenty, who is the Indigenous Justice Organizer for ACLU South Dakota and caucus member, stated that words and representation matter, and encouraged everyone to use the term Two Spirit as a way to promote visibility and inclusivity of Indigenous people.
“When you hear legislators on the floor say, ‘LGBTQ and Two Spirit people’, it makes an impact. It brings so much energy in a way that literally saves lives. I’ve had youth write to me through our ACLU portal and state, ‘I heard my elected official say Two Spirit for the first time.’ I encourage you to say Two Spirit in all your platforms,” said Brings Plenty.
How to be effective allies in uplifting the LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit voice was also heavily examined. Louise explained that there are various ways to be an ally, but that educating oneself is an important first step.
“Take a step back and be an observer of the conversations before inserting your own voice. Understanding the full scope of things is an important part of being an effective ally. Is there somebody else’s voice within the community that you could be uplifting other than your own? Ask, ‘How can I uplift their voice first?’ and then amplify it from there.”
Doing so could be as easy as sharing social media posts or donation links from organizations that help trans people. Volunteering is also an impactful way of helping and can be done through acts such as phone banking, said Louise.
At the end of the meeting, a member of the Oceti Sakowin Caucus drew attention to the fact that LGBTQ+ is only written once in the South Dakota Democratic Party Platform, and that there is no LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit caucus within the party. The consensus was that this should be addressed and changed immediately.
“I think it’s important that every voice is heard and I think that not every voice was heard during the state convention. That’s why a lot of the platforms are not 100 percent inclusive of more ideas and more communities. I do think it’s important that we come together and we are more intentional with what we’re writing as a state party,” said Louise.
The discussion ended with messages of gratitude for the keynote speaker from members of the caucus and from visitors. The group reaffirmed and re-centered their focus to building the foundations for solidarity and continuous networking amongst each other.
“Two Spirit relatives have always been sacred to our Tiospaye (families). They lived in harmony and were respected members of our communities before colonization. We uplift our Two Spirit relatives and fight to defend their rights and reclaim their important roles within our societies and families,” said Cante Heart, SDDP Native Outreach Director.
The South Dakota Democratic Party and the Oceti Sakowin Caucus recognizes the value and importance of our Two Spirit relatives and invite members of the LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit community to join us in creating a more inclusive, safe and respectful South Dakota. To learn more, visit www.sddp.org and www.transformationprojectsd.org.
Please direct questions to SDDP Native Outreach Coordinator Cante Heart via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (605) 787-1365.