The annual holiday display at the South Dakota State Capitol includes nearly 100 trees decorated by volunteers from communities, schools, churches and nonprofit organizations across the state. The trees are a beautiful representation of the merriment of the season.
Bur for the LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit organizations and supporters who worked together to decorate a tree, the tradition is about more than holiday merriment. It’s a reminder of the support these organizations – Black Hills Center for Equality, The Transformation Project, Sioux Falls Pride, Equality South Dakota and the ACLU of South Dakota – can offer the LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit community during the holidays.
“While it’s always important to appreciate the joy of the holidays, we also need to recognize the difficulties that come for some LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit people during this time of the year,” said Susan Williams, executive director of The Transformation Project. “Some folks coming home may be acknowledging their gender identity for the first time to their families or friends or may be struggling with the coming-out process and may face adversity.”
A lack of family support can have serious consequences for LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit people. That rejection can put people at risk of mental health issues, behavioral problems or even homelessness.
“While the holidays are supposed to be a season of celebration, joy, family and togetherness, that’s not always the case,” said Patti Martinson, Black Hills Center for Equality board member. “It can be a time of stress, difficulty and even sadness or depression – especially for someone who feels they aren’t able to come out or are not out to everyone in the family. We hope our tree at the capitol reminds LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit people they can reach out to us for support.”
That support, of course, goes beyond the holidays for these organizations. Advocacy is a year-round effort – especially during the upcoming legislative session.
“For the past several years, issues that matter most to South Dakotans are being ignored as some South Dakota legislators continue to attack the LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit community and erode their rights with bills that stoke fear and hatred amid discriminatory rhetoric,” said Jett Jonelis, ACLU of South Dakota advocacy manager. “Our goal is to ensure that LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit people in South Dakota can live openly without discrimination and enjoy equal rights, personal autonomy and freedom of expression and association. There’s no room for hate in this state.”