When I decided to move to Pierre a few years ago, I was a little apprehensive of just how accepting people in the Midwest would be toward queer culture.

I grew up on the West Coast where being gay was no big deal. The thought of going back into the closet was always on my mind, but to my surprise, I haven’t had any issues here. In fact, I’ve found a place filled with love and support, full of allies for the LGBTQ community.

That community will be on full display during Pierre Pride at the Ramkota Hotel on Saturday, July 20. Pride, now in its second year here, is all about celebration and acceptance, whether that is celebrating who you are, the history of LGBTQ culture or whatever that may be. It’s going to be a fun, educational and family-friendly event with live music, dancing, speeches and more. No matter your age, your size, shape or color, Pierre Pride is a great time to be who you are without fear, and I hope to see you there!

But celebrating LGBTQ culture and diversity in South Dakota reminds me that there is still work to do.

For the past several years the South Dakota legislature has put a target on the backs of transgender students and repeatedly attempted to pass legislation that would codify discrimination against them. In the 2019 session, four bills targeting transgender youth were debated – one in the Senate and three in the House. Fortunately, none of them passed, but that doesn’t mean lawmakers won’t stop trying.

That’s why I volunteer my time with organizations like Equality South Dakota and the ACLU of South Dakota. I want to ensure that LGBTQ South Dakotans can live openly without discrimination and enjoy equal rights, personal autonomy and freedom of expression and association.

After celebrating Pride and showing your support for our area’s LGBTQ community this weekend, I urge you to do one more thing: Contact your legislators.

I know. The legislature isn’t in session right now. But South Dakota lawmakers need to hear from their constituents year-round. There’s no better time than during Pride to start the conversation with your elected officials about why they should oppose discriminatory LGBTQ bills during the 2020 legislative session.

We’re in quite a unique position as South Dakotans. We have easy access to our elected officials at a moment’s notice. They’re our friends and neighbors! Contacting them about issues you care about doesn’t have to be complicated. Just take a minute to introduce yourself in an email or with a phone call, remind them what your priority issues are, and how you hope to see them affect change in our community.

Decisions made during the annual sessions of the South Dakota Legislature have a deep and lasting impact on our state’s people and communities. As new laws are created and others repealed or written, it’s important to ensure that these changes preserve and strengthen our constitutional rights. So get involved and make your voice heard!

After all, Pride is much more than just a festival. It’s also about creating spaces to celebrate what makes us unique outside of the Pride season. Change in South Dakota isn’t going to happen overnight, but it will happen if we do it together.