My home state of South Dakota is poised to enact an anti-transgender bill as well as another "religious freedom" bill. These bills that are now before Gov. Dennis Daugaard are wrong, hateful and just plain absurd.
I agree with what the ACLU says: "H.B. 1008 would make transgender students use separate restrooms and locker rooms from everyone else - further singling out children who are already at high risk of harassment and isolation. South Dakota lawmakers are sending a message that it's OK to segregate, humiliate, and bully transgender students. They're saying that transgender students should be kept away from other students, as if they're dangerous." Under this bill, students would be forced to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their sex at birth.
After coming out publicly I had the pleasure of meeting a few transgender adults and their stories were just amazing to me. Growing up in a small town and living in South Dakota, I had never been introduced to a transgender person. I felt compelled to ask questions to better understand who they were as people, how the transition has worked and ask questions.
I wanted to be a person that if someone asked me, I would have educated myself enough to be able to answer questions people have in a correct manner. It was such an honor to meet the adults and they were so open and honest with me about the challenges, the changes and the successes they have had. It was important to me to learn from these individuals to really get a good understanding of the similarities and differences we had.
After getting to know them better, it is easy to say they are big-hearted, compassionate and just want to feel comfortable in their environment. H.B. 1008 is pushing transgender students away, and bullying them to separate areas. It's like we went back 70 years and passed bills based on fear and ignorance. I try to tell people to really think about putting themselves in others' shoes. What would your life be like if you were forced to be in separate bathrooms and had to be teased or bullied on a regular basis? The answer is simple: You wouldn't like it and you probably wouldn't stand for it.
Here is what is at stake with another bill, according to the Advocate: "On Monday, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed House Bill 1107, which the Human Rights Campaign called 'extreme' legislation that if signed into law would authorize recipients of taxpayer funds to discriminate against same-sex couples, transgender people, and single mothers. Specifically, it would prevent the state from taking any punitive action against any entity that discriminates because of religious beliefs about sexuality, gender, and marriage."
HB 1107 is a bill that has put fear in many people's eyes. I've seen some of my friends leave South Dakota, I've seen people sharing on social media how they would never go to South Dakota because of these insane discrimination laws. I remember when Arizona was doing similar things and the first thing I thought was, "Screw that, why would I go visit Arizona?"
It boggles my mind why people feel so afraid of something "different" when in reality it really isn't that much different. What do people think is going to happen if they provide their business to a same sex couple, or a transgender woman? I'm not sure I understand the need for treating others differently than how you'd want to be treated yourself. The country has grown so much and South Dakota has stayed stationary and it is time for South Dakota to grow up.
Gay athletes have come out all over the country and transgender athletes have come out and been accepted. Yet there are LGBTQ+ students afraid to come out and be themselves. These same people have contemplated, attempted or committed suicide. It is so important to teach our students that their lives matter, and they can make a difference in this world. By discriminating against them does not improve your business, your city, your state, or our country. We should be helping each other grow, and showing each other kindness, love, understanding, and constantly be improving each other.
As an athlete it is my job to constantly be pushing my teammates to be better. As a coach it is my job to ensure my athletes are improving and that they treat each other with respect. As a human being it is my job to show kindness and love to those similar and different than myself. Showing love and kindness for others can only be beneficial. Although it can be hard sometimes to show love to those who hurt you, it is important show them love. Love will win.
I would ask Governor Daugaard to educate himself and put himself in others' shoes before he acts on these bills. What would you do if this was you, your children or family members? Educate yourself, meet with the people you do not fully understand and get to know who they are and how things work in our lives.
I'm asking for any and all of my Outsports family to write our governor or to spread the word about these discriminatory laws. We really do have a lot of amazing things here in South Dakota but we are just so far behind we need a little push to catch up. I can't do much, but if I can do anything, it would be to utilize the friends I've made through Outsports to help our State become more inclusive and less discriminatory. At the least, please share this story on social media. Any help is appreciated.
Nate Alfson, 27, coaches high school baseball in Dell Rapids, South Dakota. He graduated from Augustana in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he majored in sociology and was on the baseball team. He lives in Sioux Falls and works for Lifescape, an agency that serves adults and children with developmental disabilities. He can be reached via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), Twitter (@NathanAlfson) and Facebook (Nathan Alfson).