Oliver Dickman is a young man out to change the world. After being the first of in his county to change his gender marker, founding Yankton’s first Gay-Straight Alliance, and opening the first nonbinary restroom on his school’s campus, he’s off to a great start.
What does it look like for you to celebrate Pride?
I’ve never actually been to a full-fledge Pride festival! Always seeing them through friends’ posts on social media made me want to go. Sadly, the dates usually lined up with school functions or other obligations for me. However, this year I will be attending Sioux Falls Pride which I am very excited about.
What has your experience been like, living as an out-LGBTQ person in South Dakota?
Growing up in rural South Dakota, I never heard of LGBTQ people. It wasn’t until about 7th grade that I came across what LGBTQ was on the internet. Any talk of LGTBQ culture was pretty taboo when I was younger – especially in Springfield, S.D., the small town I grew up in. It wasn’t a welcomed topic by most.
Moving to Yankton was one of the best choices I ever made. My class size went from about 25 to 250, which led to me being more open about myself. I really enjoyed life in Yankton. Playing soccer was important to me, particularly after coming out as trans, since I was playing on the team which gender I identified as.
My life seemed to improve after I came out. I was more confident, and most people already knew before I did, which seems to be a common theme with many coming out stories. By the time I hit junior year in Yankton, I wasn’t being dead named and was completely comfortable doing normal, everyday things – like going to the restroom. My school even put in a non-binary restroom, which was a big win for our little LGBTQ community.
Our school’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) has been a huge beacon of support for students across the district. We hosted meetings to listen to issues facing students, share stories, and come up with ways to make day-to-day life better. We also screened a private viewing of “Love Simon” which as really well-received. Thanks to the support of teachers and faculty, our GSA will continue even after my graduation. I’m excited to hear what they accomplish.
Tell us about testifying in Pierre. What inspired you to do that?
I felt called to do it. Many people presume I am quiet at the first impression. However, once I am determined to accomplish something, nothing can stop me.
It was, of course, nerve-wracking. You never know what the legislators are going to say. Our state’s capital has a reputation of being anti-trans, so it was a little scary, to be honest. But once I was up there speaking, all the fear melted away. I was able to get my story out and even speak with a few legislators after the hearing. It was comforting to know that many of them, even on the opposite side of the political spectrum, cared enough to thank me for making the trip to Pierre in the middle of winter to testify.
A bit of advice for anyone looking to testify: Make sure you know what you want to say. Don’t worry about having the perfect speech. Just make sure it’s from the heart.
How do you hope to impact your community during Pride season and beyond? Why is this important to you?
I hope to encourage people to fight through the fear of the unknown. Anyone who is willing to share their story should do so. I always carry around extra resources on my phone, ready to share with people who are interested in learning more about what exactly it means to be transgender.
This is important to me because I’ve noticed much of what causes issues in our community is a lack of education. If I can be a part of helping fill in the gaps, I think I can make people understand and be more empathetic.
Why should people get involved in their LGBTQ community? What advice do you have for people wanting to do more?
People should get involved because their voice matters. They should jump all in, without fear, and do what comes naturally to them. Speaking your truth has so much power.
What’s on the horizon post-graduation?
I was accepted to the University of Minnesota! I am planning to study psychology and women and gender studies. In the end, I hope to work as a psychologist.