Karine Jean-Pierre
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Trans Reporter Alleges Wrongful Firing by South Dakota Public Radio

Stel Kline portrait

The only transgender journalist at South Dakota Public Broadcasting has lost their job, after being told they are “not objective and have a problem with authority.”

Stel Kline wrote on Twitter Monday that they were terminated “despite being told there was nothing for me to improve on at a recent quarterly review.” Kline joined SDPB, based in Vermilion, in October as a reporter and the local host for the NPR program Morning Edition. SDPB is a statewide public broadcasting network, with radio, television, and online content.

Kline wrote that they took the “not objective” and “problem with authority” comments as compliments. In a follow-up tweet, they said, “In my interview I was very clear that as a trans person I am unable to be impartial about attacks on my humanity. Objectivity is not a static identity, but when wielded as such becomes the language of those with the most power.” In another, they added, “Declaring someone not objective is a selective practice used effectively to exclude POC / queer journos.”

Kline said they encountered a transphobic atmosphere at SDPB. “A half hour before beginning my first day of work I received a call informing me the head of communications directed the editor of the membership magazine to remove all instances of my pronouns from an article set to run announcing my hiring,” they wrote. Kline was told the use of they/them pronouns “would be a grammar issue for the older readers” and that management wanted the public to get to know Kline “so they would judge my stories and voice without being clouded by the fact that I am trans.”

Singular pronouns have been used throughout time, are gramatically correct, and appear in most journalistic style guides. 

“Through this first day on the job, it became glaringly evident that unchecked personal bias clouds judgment in this workplace,” Kline added. They also said they were encouraged to tweet about their experiences in South Dakota, but because they tweeted about being harassed as a trans person, their bosses said they had “lost credibility.”

Kline came to SDPB after interning at Baltimore’s NPR affiliate and working as a freelance producer in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. They said they are pursuing a wrongful termination appeal.

The Advocate has reached out to SDPB for comment and will update this story if we receive a response.

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