What made you want to share your story with the ACLU of South Dakota?
Sharing my story means inspiring people who might be afraid. By sharing my experiences as an out LGBTQ person, I hope to show people that they can live a full life and be proud of who they are. I hope to inspire people who might be in the closet to feel the urge to free themselves, when they’re ready, and make it a point to live visibly. It is vital to be out, proud, and normalize being LGBTQ - especially in such a politically divided time we are in now.
I hope that one day, by sharing more stories about LGBTQ South Dakotans, we can eliminate the relfextvity of othering the LGBTQ community in our state. By alienating a population that makes up over 20,000 people, South Dakota oftentimes sends a message to queer tourists that those who are different aren’t treated hospitibly, but with question and hesitation.
When in all actuality, it is quite the opposite culture of people who I’ve met in my two years as a South Dakotan.
Currently you aren’t living full time in South Dakota. What are you up to?
I’ve been a traveling dentist for the last few months and so far, really like it. I have been working, most recently, in rural communities in Colorado that need dental care. Specifically, I’ve been outfitting people for braces and related care. So far this month, I’ve only been in South Dakota for about four days, which doesn’t lend a ton of time for meeting with people, or visiting with friends, or tending to my apartment.
Last year, you helped the ACLU of South Dakota translate voter information into Arabic. Why was that something you chose to do?
Every. Vote. Matters. Every single vote matters regardless of your political beliefs. Voting is a way to exercise your voice and make it heard by politicians and leaders in your community. I helped translate documents because many people who don’t speak English fluently could struggle to understand politics, their rights as voters, and more. These folks may also be unfamiliar with bills that are proposed or laws that are passed that directly affect their daily lives. It’s important to expand resources to all South Dakotans, regardless of their first language, so everyone has an even playing field.
Education is so important. I know folks that struggle with being foreign in a new country, I struggled with that, too. Doing something as simple as translating a brochure can be beneficial to so many people.
What is it like for you living in South Dakota as an out LGBTQ+ person?
Living in South Dakota as an out LGBTQ person has left me with some mixed emotions. I have lived out and proudly my entire time here, and over the last two years, I didn’t have a ton of friends but kept in touch with my peers in Jordan and my family.
Over the last few years living here, I have noticed a change in how the business community here supports LGBTQ people. When I moved here in 2017, I saw one, maybe two businesses donning rainbow flags. Now, in 2019, I’ve seen the number of businesses flying flags more than quadruple! To some, a rainbow flag might seem like an insignificant gesture; however, it is anything but. A rainbow flag is a sign of safety, inclusivity, and acceptance. It shows that the business flying the flag welcomes literally everyone through their doors without hesitation. This sense of community support has made living out, at least for me, a bit easier.
I know isn’t always the same story for everyone else. Some LGBTQ people I know are afraid to come out or live authentically because they think their family, peers, or community will reject them - an entirely justifiable fear. In fact, this happened to me. When I made the choice to live authentically, I told my family about being LGBTQ and they didn’t welcome me at first and to this day, they are still apprehensive. But I didn’t let that stop me. I knew that if I didn’t come out and embrace my true self, I wouldn’t be living my life fully.
What would you tell people who might be afraid to share their stories, or live openly as LGBTQ+?
It is OK to be afraid. It’s important to know that there will be some sort of reaction from whoever you share your story with, whether that’s negative or positive, so be prepared. Before coming out, it is important to take your time and make sure it is something you are comfortable doing. There are countless resources out there for people who are looking for support within the LGBTQ community, like the Children’s Home Society in Sioux Falls, and LGBTQ Pride organizations across the state. Make a plan for coming out, and anticipate what you can do if you receive some negative feedback. Bear in mind that you are your own home and no one can take that away from you.
One thing I strongly suggest is meeting other LGBTQ people. Making friends who are LGBTQ is a great way to build a support system of people who can honestly relate to what you are going through. Life is much too short to be living in the shadows and not explore your true identity.
You must always love yourself. Tomorrow is going to be a better day.