Nancy and her wife Jennie Rosenbrahn, along with a handful of other LGBTQ couples, made history in South Dakota in 2014 by taking on the state and suing for marriage equality.
What does it mean to celebrate LGBTQ culture and history?
Moments after the United States made same-sex marriage legal, we saw waves of positive change. Jennie and I were overwhelmed with positive messages from folks. The consensus was this ruling offered a sense of comfort for LGBTQ people. It seemed to spark the desire for more change in many, as we all knew this was just the start.
Activism doesn’t have to be hard or feel daunting. It can be as simple as picking up the phone and talking to your family about issues that matter most to you. Or you can take it to the next level. South Dakotans do a wonderful job of showing up for events. But the importance of making it to our capital, writing letters to elected officials, and phone calls on important issues often outweighs the effect of say, a potluck. I often encourage people to use their story, to change the hearts and minds of their peers. Making it personal works.
Pride season is important because it is when the entire LGBTQ community comes together. It is a great time to get re-engaged. It gets people off their screens and back into the public.
What has your experience been like, living as an out-LGBTQ person in South Dakota?
My experience has been a little different than most.
Jennie and I have owned a mobile home park since the ’70s. Our tenants know we’re married and they love us. We are one big happy family.
Admittedly, as lesbian women, we oftentimes get a pass on judgement. I came out in the mid-’80s, and after getting married, then travelling across the country, I’ve noticed a prevalent “live and let live” attitude. I have also seen that gay men often have a harder time than we do. There’s just a sense of masculinity required of gay men that doesn’t usually affect us.
Jennie often says to folks we meet, “We have nothing to hide. Yep, we’re gay. What else do you want to talk about?”
What inspired you to be a part the federal same-sex marriage lawsuit in 2014?
It all started with David Patton, former president of the Black Hills Center for Equality. He was a driving force behind getting us and the other couples involved. The ignition for us was sparked also by Phil Jensen’s bill which would’ve allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people openly.
Ahead of getting involved, we threw a rally to talk about issues facing the LGBTQ community in our area. At the rally, we spoke about marriage, shared our story, and worked to get folks engaged. South Dakota, at the time, was one of two states which did not have a lawsuit facing them for marriage equality.
In the months following the rally, David Patton made a formal ask for us to get on the case to sue South Dakota for the right to marry. We quickly agreed, however, he pressured us to think twice. Which we did, and ultimately, inspired by the work of Edie Windsor, made the same choice to dive in. Jennie and I knew it was the right thing to do, and once it was out to the world, more people showed up. There were a total of six couples from the state who decided to take on South Dakota for the right to marry their spouse.
In March 2014, a year or so before the decision, we planned our trip to Washington, D.C., with our lawyer to fight on the steps of our capitol for our rights to marry. Not for one moment did we think we could completely lose. Our thought was, regardless if the case won or not, we know we would win allies and build support. We couldn’t afford to be complacent. Then, in June 2015, marriage equality became legal nationwide.
How do you hope to impact your community during Pride season and beyond? Why is this important to you?
I hope that our journey and our story has inspired people across the nation to act – whatever that looks like. We cannot afford to be complacent and leave advocacy work to a handful of people. It simply will not work.
Why should people get involved in their LGBTQ community? What advice do you have for people wanting to do more?
Forming effective collections of advocacy partners works. If you can get a dozen or so people together on the same page and rally their peers, you can make a difference. You don’t necessarily need to form a national organization to impact your community. We are all capable of doing something, whatever that may be. Your voice and your truth matters.
I’d also note that it is important to know your history. You can’t move forward without knowing where you have been.
Individual voices can truly make a difference.