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South Dakota Ends Trans Group's Contract After Right-Wing Outcry

Kristi Noem
Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem accused the Transformation Project of "dividing our youth with radical ideologies."

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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem's administration has canceled a contract with a transgender organization after right-wing media denounced the group.

The organization, the Transformation Project, lost its contract with the South Dakota Department of Health, with the department saying it failed to meet several contractual obligations. Officials with the Transformation Project say this is a bogus excuse.

The Daily Signal, a right-wing site, reported last week that it "drew the governor's attention" to the group and its plan to cohost the Midwest Gender Identity Summit in January with Sanford Health, which operates hospitals and other health care institutions.

The Signal claimed the Transformation Project "celebrates controversial medical interventions for minors and hosts events in which people ritually 'burn' their 'old name or pronouns.'" The publication also critiqued the summit for promoting gender-affirming care, which the Signal described as "experimental medicine." In truth, this care is neither experimental nor particularly controversial; it's endorsed by the American Medical Association and other major health groups.

But the Transformation Project's contract was quickly canceled, and Noem, a Republican with a history of anti-LGBTQ+ and particularly anti-trans stances, gave this statement to the Signal: "South Dakota does not support this organization's efforts, and state government should not be participating in them. We should not be dividing our youth with radical ideologies. We should treat every single individual equally as a human being." Her press secretary, Ian Fury, told the outlet Noem had not been aware of the contract previously.

The termination letter sent to the Transformation Project by Lynne Valenti, South Dakota's deputy secretary of health, says the contract was terminated because the group had not met several obligations, such as hiring a community health care worker, providing quarterly reports, and more. But Susan Williams, the organization's executive director, issued an open letter saying it had hired the health worker and was in full compliance with the contract.

The Transformation Project has faced "intense scrutiny from online publications that peddle falsehoods about transgender people and perpetuate harm and discrimination against them," Williams wrote. She added, "We are also deeply concerned by the appearance that the termination of this contract stems not from our actions, but as a result of the population we serve." The group lists as its mission "to support and empower transgender individuals and their families while educating communities in SD and the surrounding region about gender identity and expression."

"To put it simply, we received a grant to establish a CHW program and we did just that," Williams wrote. "We complied with all aspects of the contract and are heartbroken at what we believe are inaccurate descriptions of our work. We are further devastated because it is patently obvious that the transgender and broader LGBQ2S community in South Dakota faces health disparities that could be improved under this grant -- precisely what was intended in the first place." The group is seeking legal advice, she noted.

Meanwhile, South Dakota's secretary of health, Joan Adam, announced her retirement Monday, according to the Argus Leader, a Sioux Falls newspaper. There has been "unconfirmed speculation" that her retirement was related to the termination of the contract, the paper reported.

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.