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Building Support Network for SD Transgender Youth, Families

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Friday, April 1, 2022   

For years, members of the LGBTQ community in South Dakota have fought state policies they describe as discriminatory, and people who are transgender have had do so without supportive local voices to turn to. One group is trying to change that.

During this week's "Trans Day of Visibility," South Dakota advocates not only paused to celebrate, but also discussed how to build support year-round.

Jack Fonder, a board member at the Transformation Project, which formed two years ago, noted that convincing all the state to embrace these individuals is half the battle. The trans community has lacked guidance when its members face backlash or deal with other obstacles.

"We had parents that are reaching out to other states," he said, "and having to travel to try to get that help and the assistance, and 'How do I help my kid through that?'"

Fonder said their outreach includes welcome kits that detail resources in the region. The organization also has opened a free clothing boutique that specializes in gender-diverse fashions. While the Transformation Project is geared toward trans youth and their families, leaders have said they strive to support all age groups.

Fonder said encouraging trans youth to be self-advocates can be fulfilling but also has drawbacks. Beyond the emotional pain they can experience in their transformation, speaking up during policy battles, such as the recent sports-ban bill, can take away even more opportunities to feel like a normal kid.

"We saw trans youths out on the weekends, standing on the side of the road protesting," he said. "So, instead of them just being able to be kids, and kind of spending the weekends with their family, we're all out here protesting instead."

As a transgender adult, Fonder said, he hopes youth see him living his life in a state where residents of a lot of towns aren't as welcoming.

"That's my experience with it, with where I live," he said. "I'm just that person that lives here, and that's kind of how I'm talked about throughout town."

However, he stressed that staying true to his identity helps the trans community become more visible.


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