"In giving rights to others which belong to them, we give rights to ourselves and to our country."
--President John F. Kennedy
Believing that a violation of a person's individual rights imperils the rights of all, the ACLU works to extend basic freedoms to the nation's most vulnerable populations. This includes members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and those living with HIV/AIDS. Despite the many advances that have been made, LGBT people continue to face discrimination in many areas of life. Gay people are denied the right to marry in South Dakota and most other states. No federal law prevents a person from being fired or refused a job on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The nation's largest employer -the U.S. military- openly discriminates against gays and lesbians.
Discrimination in the workplace has a direct effect on the quality of work performed and on the quality of candidates that can be recruited and retained by companies. Anti-discrimination measures do not grant special rights they grant equal rights and make sure that the playing field is fair for everyone. The ACLU of SD will continue to advocate for LGBT individuals and groups; to oppose laws that criminalize intimacy; to support and introduce legislation that prohibits discrimination; and to preserve the right to free expression and association for all people.
In 2009 the ACLU of South Dakota started its collaborative work with Equality South Dakota's workplace fairness project. The project seeks to add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing policies and laws that prohibit discrimination across the state. In South Dakota, like many states across the country, it is still legal to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
In January, 2010, the ACLU of SD along with Equality SD vigorously lobbied the Rapid City School District to amend their anti-discrimination policies to include sexual orientation as a prohibited category for discrimination. After three heated public debates and hearings, the school board adopted the policy with a 4-3 vote. The two largest school districts in the state now have at least sexual orientation included in their discrimination policies, and we will continue to advocate for the inclusion of gender identity in these policies as well in the future.
The ACLU of SD with Equality SD introduced the first ever anti-discrimination bill into the South Dakota House of Representatives this past legislative session. HB 1144 sought to amend the state Human Relations Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited categories for discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations and housing. While HB 1144 did not pass, we had bi-partisan support and both Republican and Democrat sponsors on the bill. We will continue to work with other LGBT rights groups to introduce pro-equality legislation and educate advocates and legislators about the importance of amending South Dakota's non-discrimination laws.
On the federal level, we worked with Equality SD to start a letter writing campaign to Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin asking for her support of an ENDA that included protections for gender identity. We gathered 150 handwritten letters to send to Rep. Herseth-Sandlin requesting she support an ENDA that includes gender identity. Click here to contact Rep. Herseth-Handlin to ask her to support ENDA!
In February, 2010 the ACLU of SD sent a letter of complaint to the Rapid City Police Department on behalf of Jen Newsome regarding their conveyance of a police report to the United States Air Force that "outed" her as a lesbian. Newsome was then discharged under the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. News of the RCPD's actions has gained national media coverage with Jen Newsome appearing on CNN and her story appearing in many local and national media outlets. As a result of this incident, the RCPD has since changed their policy regarding the release of information to the Ellsworth Military Base, although they maintain that the department and all involved officers acted appropriately.
We are currently working with local attorneys, researching a potential lawsuit against the Rapid City Police Department. Watch our newsfeed or the Facebook page for updates on the case. We also encourage those of you who are outraged by this severe invasion of Jen Newsome's privacy to visit the ACTION center to find out what you can do to get justice for Jen!