We the People is a blog series that features the stories of members, supporters, volunteers, and allies of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota. Together we are accomplishing critical work in our state to protect and advance civil liberties across the Midwest and beyond.

Oliver Dickman could be described as an “accidental advocate.” As a senior in high school, Oliver spends his days studying, getting involved with his school’s theater program, hanging out with friends and working. But last month, when the legislature introduced House Bill 1108, legislation that would have codifed discrimination against transgender youth, Oliver began speaking out, first to his hometown newspaper and then in front of a senate committee.     

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m 17 years old and a senior at Yankton High School. I came out publicly as a transgender male when I was 15. Since then, I’ve been living my life as the person I really am: Oliver, a normal teenage boy in South Dakota.

When did you first hear about the ACLU of South Dakota and why did you want to get involved?

I first heard about the ACLU when I was asked if I would be willing to testify in Pierre. At first, I was a bit nervous to step out into the light. Then I realized that not many kids would be willing to put themselves out there and stand up for their rights.

How does the ACLU and our work relate to you personally? Are there any issues you feel most connected to?

The ACLU and its work relates to me personally because it helps me continue living as who I am. Transgender isn’t a common term, especially in states such as South Dakota. Being able to help the LGBTQ+ community in general means a lot to me.

What was it like testifying against House bill 1108?

It felt exhilarating to sit in front of the microphone while talking about something I’m passionate about. Younger generations should be able to learn about gender dysphoria. I don’t recall ever hearing about the LGBTQ+ community in any of my classes, let alone gender dysphoria.

What is your favorite way to get involved in your community?

My favorite way to get involved in my community is through my school’s GSA, where we often talk about local problems in the LGBTQ+ community. I also participate in a transgender group in Sioux Falls, which helps not only transgender youth but their parents as well.

What you would tell people about the ACLU of South Dakota?

I would tell people the ACLU helps protect people’s rights and is a wonderful group to work with. It reached out to me and helped me every step of the way through my testimony, despite having never done anything like it before.

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